I don't have all the details, and I would never have tried to squeeze them out of her. She started to tell me, almost sixty years after the fact, and just trailed off into private sorrow. I'm trying to just remember what she did say, but I don't think she'd mind if I filled in the blanks a little.
She grew up poor in Tennessee. Went to school barefoot and too smart for her class, had to hunt squirrels for food, etc. She ran off to Alabama to go to high school and live at the Bessemer YWCA.
When she was eighteen years old she met a young steelworker named Ed Hunt. His family was also from Tennessee, he was witty and took her on motorcycle rides. They went to church together. True love, with all the trimmings. Flowers, valentines, no one else treated her like that. They were engaged.
Then he was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident. He was despondent. She explained that she still loved him just as much, and was still making plans for their wedding. So much for steelwork, though; it might have been physically possible for him somehow, but no mill had a reason to hire him in that era. Good jobs were already scarce. She would have to come up with some way to support the two of them.
They never married, though. She began to explain this a couple times. He didn't feel he could be the man she deserved anymore. He didn't want to obligate anyone to take care of him. Crap like that; in short, he wasn't prepared to deal with paralysis. He killed himself in the bathtub within a week; she suffered for the rest of her life.
Grandmother Griffin told me she never accepted love or valentines from any other man. She and my grandfather "settled for" each other a decade later; they'd raise children and keep each other company but make no mention of romance. They slept in separate beds for as long as I knew them. She had a friend drive her down to visit Ed's grave as recently as two years before she died.
Valentine's Day always brought tears to her eyes. Now it does it to me; I can't really say I blame her. This story wasn't supposed to be her way of telling me not to celebrate Valentine's Day. There are probably lots of other morals to the story. I think she just knew I was suicidal and wanted to impress upon me the permanent consequences of such a thing. It obviously worked. I may have wanted an easy out, but I could not really have knowingly harmed others like that.
Happy Valentine's Day.