The Purple Crocus (A Sicilian folk tale)

retold by Cathy S. Mosley

In a time long since gone there was a family who had good land, but little luck. It was of no matter that the grapes their young son took to market were round and luscious, with the promise of sweet juice within, there were few buyers. And instead of coin the boy only gained a rumbling belly from a day without food, and tired feet from trudging through the market place.

Worse yet, the nearly full basket of grapes meant that he faced a beating when he arrived home.

The boy walked the dusty road home, with the air still hot on his cheek, and his head down.

"Good lad," an old, old voice croaked from the side of the road; a voice sounding more tired than the boy felt. "Can you give me a grape......Just one grape to ease my thirst......Even a shriveled one would help...."

He looked up and saw what appeared to be a pile of rags sitting besides the road. Granted it was a large pile, and a dusty pile, but rags nonetheless. Yet that pile moved and the boy could see the wrinkled, toothless face of an elderly woman, and while her dark eyes were tired they still had enough energy for a kind twinkle.

What good were his grapes? Now that they were picked from the vine many would spoil, and he was going to be beaten whether he brought them all back or not. Why not let them do a bit of good?

The boy pulled from his basket the largest, and choicest, bunch and handed them to the woman. He said, "Eat these in peace, Grandmother."

No sooner than the dry fingers touched the grapes then the rags disappeared and the most beautiful of ladies stood before the boy. Hair as dark as midnight was piled on her head, and bound in pearls, and her gown was of the richest green velvet.

The lads mouth dropped open and he nearly dropped his basket.

"Have no fear," the Lady said, "But listen well....for my instructions are your reward."

He nodded and paid attention.

"Plant what grapes you have left in your basket tonight in your father's field," she told him. Then she was gone.

The boy blinked and blinked again, and began to run home. No longer were his thoughts on the beating to come, but on the wondrous adventure that he had had. And he wondered how to secretly plant the grapes, since his father would think him foolish for doing so.

When he got home it was nearly dark, and his father was already coming in from the fields. And when he saw his youngest son's nearly full basket his expression became dark.

Then lightened - for within the boys basket was a gold piece for each grape the woman had been given. More than enough to have bought the whole basket on a good day. So, the boy told his wondrous tale and his parents decided that there would be no harm in planting the grapes.

The next morning, when the father and the boy went to the fields, they were met with a surprising sight. Wherever they had planted the boy's grapes a purple crocus had sprouted!!

Good fortune indeed - from such a crocus they could gain the priceless saffron!! And so, the boy and his family never knew want again.

Crocuses are one of the heralds of the arrival of Spring, and these flowering bulbs awaken to the warming sun in a variety of colors. The purple crocus of the story is called "crocus sativus," which is a native of Asia Minor, but has been cultivated in Europe. The flowers of "crocus sativus" can be either purple or white.

Saffron is made from the drying of its golden stigmas, and has been used for centuries in the making of dyes, in the preparation of medicines, and the preparation of food.

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