• Man honors wife's memory after buying her flowers for 59 years

    By: Kristin Finan, Austin American-Statesman

    Updated:

    It’s Friday happy hour at Lakeline Oaks Retirement Resort and the boxed wine is flowing.

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    Nearly 40 residents crowd the lounge, where a folk singer is crooning and a line dance to “Elvira” is under discussion.

    But when Andy Carver enters the room, with a bright bouquet of flowers tucked behind his back, everyone turns to watch.

    They know that Andy is here, as he is every Friday, to surprise a fellow resident with flowers. But more than that, they know that each bouquet he presents doubles as a tribute to his late wife, Brigitte.

    Andy and Brigitte -- for 59 years, it was those two names, those two lives, intertwined into one.

    He knew he was going to marry her the first time he set eyes on her in a restaurant in Rudesheim, Germany. He was stationed with the Army in a neighboring town, and she was a German native working as a registered nurse in Frankfurt.

    “I was finishing dinner and I saw this beautiful blonde,” said Andy, 84. “I kept looking at her. (I told my friend), ‘I’m going to marry that girl.’ I knew she was the right person. I just knew it.”
    When he saw her again later that night at a pub, he asked her to dance.

    “We went out on the dance floor, and I started with my limited vocabulary of spoken German,” he said. “She laughed, and we hit it off.”

    On their first date, he arrived with flowers. But they weren’t for her.

    “I gave them to the housemother,” he said laughing. “I had to butter her up.”

    From then on, though, all bouquets were for Brigitte.

    Her favorites were white carnations. And on the day that Andy had the honor of marrying “the prettiest girl in Germany” in late 1957, that’s what she carried.

    With everything their nearly six-decade life together would bring, including a move to Texas and two daughters, fresh flowers would remain a constant.

    Every Friday, Andy stopped to pick up a bouquet for Brigitte. Sometimes it would be white carnations, other times roses, his favorite.

    “I mixed it up quite a bit,” he said.

    She’d arrange them and he’d watch as her face would glow like a new bloom in a sun shower.

    “She just loved it, and I just loved to see her smile,” he said. “I loved to make her happy.”

    Andy Carver's late wife, Brigitte, clutches a bouquet of white carnations in a wedding day photo that hangs in Carver's residence at Lakeline Oaks Retirement Resort. A caption reads “I married the prettiest girl in Germany.”
    Nick Wagner/Austin American-Statesman

     

    In the framed photographs that adorn Andy’s apartment, the decades flit by in seconds. Their first date. Their wedding. Their 50th anniversary celebration.

    Their life together “was the most exciting experience you could have ever had,” Andy said, transitioning to present tense as he recalled the memories. “We’ve done more, been more places, seen more things.”

    Brigitte entered hospice care last year on March 6 due to complications from a stroke, and eight days later, on March 14, she died.

    They had spent 59 years, four months, two weeks, 17 hours and 15 minutes together. Now, he was alone.

    He sold their home and moved into Lakeline Oaks, where he attempted to grapple with his sadness.

    “It was a type of grief I can’t explain,” he said. “I would start something and I couldn’t finish it or I’d worry about something I couldn’t control.”

    A few months after he started living there, Andy heard that his neighbors were ill and decided to take them a bouquet of roses.

    “It just cheered them both up. They were delighted,” Andy said. “I knew that was something I was missing. (I told my daughters,) ‘I think it would make me feel good if I would do that every week for someone.’”

    He decided that every Friday, he would buy a bouquet and present it during happy hour. Since the summer, he’s presented 35 bouquets at Lakeline Oaks.

    His goal is to give one to every single or widowed woman at the property, which he thinks will take him about 18 months. Usually he buys the bouquets at Randall’s, where they now know him personally.

    “When I first got here, I knew no one,” he said. “I think now I can go to almost any table in that dining room and sit down with one of my ‘flower girls.’”

    Tamela Orell, lifestyle director at Lakeline Oaks, said the community has embraced Andy’s mission.

    “It brings him a lot of joy,” Orell said. “And the residents love it. Everybody here knows why he does it.”

    During a recent happy hour, Andy presented a bouquet to resident Billie Tips, 93, who had a birthday coming up.

    “They’re beautiful. They’re gorgeous. It’s nice to be remembered,” Tips said. “This put a smile on my face.”

    And that, of course, is the point — to conjure smiles in honor of the girl with the prettiest smile he ever knew.

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