Few flowers cheer up the early spring garden as much as the crocus does. It had a cheery beginning as well:
Once upon a time, a long time ago in the country of Italy, there was a little boy named Nicola who went to market to sell grapes for his father. His basket was brimming and Nicola walked up and down showing off his fruit, but the market was so crowded with noisy merchants and pushy buyers that nobody noticed him.
Hours passed by. Nicola’s arms ached from lugging his overflowing basket among the stalls. As the sun began to slant, he slumped down on a grassy bank, exhausted and worried about how angry his father would be if he didn’t sell any grapes. As he sat there, a wizened old crone approached.
“Will you give me a few grapes? I am so hungry I can scarcely stand up,” she rasped holding out a gnarled old hand.
Little Nicola looked at the ragged old woman. “What good are the grapes unsold?” he thought. “They’ll spoil in this heat and I will be in trouble at home no matter what I do.”
Reaching into the basket he pulled out the fattest, juiciest bunch of grapes. “Take these,” he said.
Sighing, the old crone settled down beside him and began to eat. Nicola watched her wide-eyed, for as she gulped down grapes, the old crone’s skin began to grow smoother. Her cheeks filled out, her lips grew plump, her hair shone lustrously and her eyes sparkled. Even her clothes changed. Tears in the fabric of her dress knitted together, the colors grew bright, and silk ribbons shone in the sunlight.
“Now stop gaping and listen to me Nicola,” said the woman who now appeared to be a rich, beautiful lady. “Take the rest of these grapes home. Plant them in your father’s field and you shall be rewarded for your kindness.”
Knowing that the lady must be some kind of goddess or fairy, Nicola rose and bowed his head. Then he sprinted home. He ran past his house and did not stop until he reached his father’s field. There he carefully dug a row of holes in the ground and dropped the grapes in one by one.
When the last grape was firmly planted and the soil patted down on top, Nicola grabbed his empty basket. But he could hardly lift it!
“An animal must have crawled inside,” thought Nicola. But when he looked, he saw no animal. Instead, a heap of gold coins twinkled up at him. There were at least as many coins as there had been grapes that morning.
At the sight of the gold, Nicola’s father beamed. Next day, the family was even more thrilled for outside their field glimmered with thousands of tiny purple blossoms. The grapes had become the first crocuses.
People came from far and near to look at the beautiful new flower. Soon doctors discovered it had healing powers and merchants found that it produced a fabulous spice. Nicola’s family became rich because of the crocus and he never had to go to market to sell grapes ever again.
(adapted from Blossom Tales by Patricia Hruby Powell)
In the Language of Flowers the crocus means “Youthful gladness.”