From her vantage point as a salesclerk in the floral department of a Northwest Side Jewel, Jan Madia had a good view of the customers in the produce department.
And a certain shopper captured her attention.
"He was just a very attractive man that I wondered about. … He was a good shopper. He looked at every mango. He did the same thing for cheese."
As you might expect, it was the handsome part more than the good-shopper aspect of the man that was the most compelling. Thus began what Jan describes as "a crush on a stranger."
This was 10 years ago and Jan says today, "The chance that he would shop during my shift was what kept me coming to work — that and (health) insurance."
The sightings were sporadic. "He'd just show up at random times. It would be months sometimes before I'd see him."
But when he did come through the door of the store at 4042 W. Foster Ave., "I was really overcome. I would go into the floral cooler because I was red as a beet."
And, if you're thinking that the handsome stranger was captivated by the sales clerk in the floral department, never mind.
"She was a clerk who worked at the store. I didn't make any note of her," says John Yarish, Jan's fantasy mate. "Not a clue."
After months of this, they finally spoke: John asked Jan if she had any freesia, a flower known for its wonderful fragrance.
"He became my Freesia Man," she says. In fact, "I started buying freesia whenever I would see it at wholesalers and place it in my home to send out a silent fragrance prayer to somehow entice the man," says Jan, who now runs her own flower and plant business, Rainforest Designs, from her Northwest Side home.
After the first freesia request, every time John came into the store he'd ask Jan for freesia. The answer was always the same: Jewel didn't have any and he'd settle for a bouquet of Stargazer lilies or whatever caught his eye. Little by little, their conversations got longer.
John never suspected that, early on, Jan — divorced and in her 50s — used their seemingly casual talks to establish that he was single. "Is this a gift for someone?" she'd ask. "I learned he wasn't going home to a wife and family," she says.
Meanwhile, John, twice divorced and also in his 50s, was finding himself more intrigued. "I got curious. She certainly is knowledgeable about flowers and was helpful and struck me as a kind, peaceful person — and content. That sort of piqued my interest," John says.
That said, this pattern of "Do you have any freesia" and ensuing conversations in the Jewel floral department went on … and on for three and a half more years.
"If it weren't for taking a different route home I'd still be working at the Jewel waiting for him to come in and fondle mangoes. Fortunately, fate took over," Jan says.
To be precise, fate took over on Dec. 26, 2006. On that day, "I was feeling very lonely," she recalls. "My daughter left that morning for Australia for a big trip with her boyfriend, so I was feeling kind of low and I went to Blockbuster to pick up some movies. And I was running into a big traffic jam so I took a different route home.
"And I saw John getting out of a car, with luggage. … I pulled right up to him. It's a miracle I didn't hit him. And I asked him, 'Is this where you live?'"
He said yes and Jan, now 64, couldn't believe it. "I was shocked. Of course I told him I lived exactly two blocks north."
"I had just gotten back into town from spending Christmas with my mom (outside Cleveland). … I said, 'Listen, I've been on the road for six hours. Do you want to grab a sandwich later?'" John recalls. "I put the luggage in the house, got cleaned up and an hour or two later …"
"He showed up at my front door," Jan finishes the sentence. "He comes in and has a seat in the kitchen and we sat and talked and talked for what seemed to be hours and we decided we better order in." They shared pizza from nearby Martino's.
In a tone of knock-me-over-with-a-feather, Jan says, "I was very excited. Here's what I've dreamed for five or six years and he's sitting across the table from me eating dinner. I was energized. I'll say that. I don't think I was asleep for hours. It was great. It was a fantasy come true."
Within a month, they knew this was the real thing. "I told her that I had no doubts, no hesitations," says John, 63, an engineer who works for the city. "Everything was so … comfortable and easy," he says. "There was no official proposal. I can't even remember what the day was when we went over the cusp and decided to get married." That decision was "the smartest thing I've ever done."
Two days after Thanksgiving in 2008, Jan and John were married. By good fortune, the assistant manager of the Jewel where Jan worked was a minister who was happy to officiate.
Care to guess where the wedding took place?
Of course: the floral department of Jan and John's Jewel.
Love lesson: "Flower power!" says Jan Madia-Yarish. "When you least expect it you can meet someone who is the love of your life. You just have to be open to it."