Finding Cinderella in a Bleeding Heart

 Bleeding Heart Plant

Bleeding Heart Plant

My first clear memory of my grandparents dates back to the age of 7.  I can still hear my mother delivering the news that we would be moving to a new town.  I took this in stride but there were two things I wanted to know— would we be closer to my favorite vacation spot (yes) and would we be closer to Grandma and Grandpa (no).  

My grandparents raised their family in Wisconsin, but spent summers in their native Iowa where, as a teacher, Grandpa could move for the off season.  By the time I was old enough to remember, they were back there permanently and we made an annual pilgrimage to visit. 

I loved these expeditions, carried to the car curled up and sleepy with the damp dark of early morning all around me.  Six hours later the sun had risen and we arrived at a house filled with magic—violets that sprang up in the lawn, black walnuts secreted away, and fireflies held jarred and captive to illuminate the loaned bedroom where we slept.  Best of all were the bleeding hearts, which my grandmother would pull apart to reveal their secret treasures. 


   You start with a bleeding heart flower

Bleeding Heart Rabbits
Bleeding Heart Rabbits
  Then you pull off a pair of rabbits

Bleeding Heart Question Marks
Do You Love Me?
   This is followed by two question marks

Cinderella's Slippers
Shall We Dance?
   Then Cinderella’s glass slippers

Perfume Stopper
Perfume Stopper
 And in the very most interior recess, a tiny perfume bottle stopper.

I was lucky enough not to lose a grandparent until my 20’s—or in some ways unlucky since the poignancy was stronger and more personal.  I remember feeling that a thousand wonders had suddenly vanished, like the burning of a family homestead.

Bleeding Hearts

Bleeding Hearts

One of my favorite contemporary quotes is the Queen Elizabeth II’s 9/11 consolation that “grief is the price we pay for love.”  My grandparents have been gone a long time now and recently my father passed on.  And so I share to preserve.  The heart does bleed, but we hope Cinderella lives on.

21 thoughts on “Finding Cinderella in a Bleeding Heart

  1. rose

    Thanks for sharing about these gorgeous bleeding hearts flowers. They are absolutely beautiful. I don’t think we have them in San Francisco.

  2. Louise

    What a heartfelt post, Inger. I never knew the story of the glass slipper. I will be sure and share it with my grand-daughter when she comes to visit in July. (I hope and pray:)

    I too remember my first sighting of the Bleeding Heart. The lady who lived next door to where I grew up had a magical garden. She told me the bleeding heart stemmed from a religious belief. Aren’t flowers so much more than elegant beauty?

    Thank you so very much for sharing this touching story. My grandmother was Queen of meatballs!!!

    1. Inger Wilkerson

      I do hope you do get to share with your granddaughter. And I think that food memories of grandparents (and others) are some of the best! My (other) grandmother had a Danish meatball recipe that is now lost, since no one still living remembers it 🙁

  3. [email protected]

    Thank you for sharing! What a beautiful flower and what a beautiful story connected to it.

    I remember my grandmother mainly by her garden and her food. It’s amazing how a certain fruit or vegetable or food brings back such strong memories. In fact, I’m growing little, “heirloom” strawberries this year, and they are very similar to the ones my grandmother used to grow. I think of her ever time I pick one…

  4. oysterculture

    What an incredibly touching post. I too lost my grandparents when I was in my 20s and I feel blessed to have been able to have them for so long.

    I’ve seen bleeding hearts many a times growing up in the midwest but never knew the story. Thanks for sharing. Now I cannot wait to pass it along to my niece. I’m sure we’ll have many shredded bleeding heart flowers in our future.

  5. Grapefruit

    I loved this beautiful post. It struck a chord with me because there’s never a day when I don’t miss my grandmother & am hoping to go home next month and see her. Thanks for sharing!

  6. mindy

    Yes, but in our family…what you call question marks are Cinderella’s earrings! And it’s a bottle of perfume 😉

    1. Inger Wilkerson

      I had also read a magic want for what I called the perfume bottle stopper, which I think is perfect for the story! Perhaps when I have grandchildren I will do my own version and pick and choose!

  7. Helen

    I was trying to recall the sequence my own grandmother told me 50 years ago. She came to Pennsylvania from Austria, where her family were peasant workers on the estate of a count near Graz. The legend is the same, except according to my grammy, the questions marks were Cinderella’s earrings! Thank you for bringing back lovely memories.

    1. Inger Wilkerson

      You are the second person to mention the earrings. As I said to the other commenter, I think I may collect the best ideas and do a composite version when I have grandchildren!

  8. Kristen

    My grandmother called the stopper a needle and the ? Earrings. They are one of my favorite flowers.

    1. Inger Post author

      I could see that Kristen. It’s interesting to hear the different versions of this!

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