A few years so, my friend L. from home DM’d me on Instagram to tell me Happy Valentine’s Day. Then she told me how much she missed the Valentine’s Days we shared back when she worked for my mom and my grandmother in our family flower shop.
“Don’t you miss it?” appeared in a little purple bubble on my screen.
“Nope. Not even a little bit.”
Me, my siblings, my cousins, my nephews – all of us – grew up in the flower shop. My grandmother opened her flowers and gifts store when I was five. I remember when the whole family got together and built it – much like a barn raising. After that, my mom quit her factory job and the family business was born.
Slone thinks flower businesses are cool and even considered opening one herself. Especially when I told her about how we knew all the news and gossip in our town. We knew when babies were born, when weddings were scheduled, when people were sick, who was in the nursing home, when people got new jobs, and whose marriage was on the rocks.
It seems like one of those Hallmark movie jobs where you just hang out and make pretty things.
Greenery deliveries are heavy, roses have thorns, and hot glue gun burns leave scars.
Flower businesses also create spontaneous all-hands-on-deck experiences. Like when a person in the community dies, the flower shop is open even when it’s supposed to be closed. I remember walking into the back door of the shop as a little girl looking for my mom and seeing a weeping bereaved family sit with her and my Maw to discuss casketpiece flowers.
When a family business revolves around gift-giving holidays, it means you see holidays differently. Easter means wiping pollen out of the peace lilies, Christmas is all about poinsettias, Mother’s Day is stashing corsages in strangers’ refrigerators, and Valentine’s Day is the hardest day of the year.
Valentine’s Day is like white water rafting on a river of roses and heart-shaped balloons. And it wasn’t just that day. We started getting ready for Valentine’s Day weeks before the actual day: hanging balloons on the back wall so patrons could quickly select the one they wanted, pre-tying bows for vases, separating the red from the green from the Hershey’s Kisses bags we bought on clearance the day after Christmas at K-Mart.
L. started working for my family when she was 14 years old. She was really my mom’s favorite. L. babysat me and my sister. She also worked flea markets, worked weddings, kept the store organized, made fresh flower arrangements, made wreaths, and tied about a million bows. Even after L. graduated high school and moved on to college, she still came in and worked weekends, large funerals, holidays, and of course Valentine’s Day. And because she was so essential, she spent V-Day at the store slinging flowers and talking smack with the grown-ups.
I can see why she loved it. It was fast-paced and hectic, perhaps even fun.
Once I was old enough to help out, I was pulled from school on Valentine’s Day. Unfortunately, I was not good at arranging flowers. I couldn’t tie a bow to save my life. I under-inflated the balloons because I was scared of them popping in my hand. My handwriting was not good enough for cards. But what I could do was ride with the deliveries. It was my job to carry the orders into the houses and buildings.
Some might romanticize this and say that I was delivering joy. Funnily enough, it did not feel joyous.
We’d have at least five vehicles on the road at a time on V-Day and people traveled in teams. We’d hire extra people to come in, usually cousins and family friends. And I would often get stuck with the person that everyone was least comfortable with – usually because they were new. My mother always paired me with them because I was comfortable with strangers. It sucked. I wanted to be in the car with someone I knew, because then I would feel comfortable commandeering the radio, singing along with the songs, and demanding we stop for potatoes at Q-Mart. Instead, I was politely making small talk with one of my friend’s moms, the head of band boosters, or an old Brownie leader.
And delivering was hard. Flowers in vases do not just ride easily in the back of a van, station wagon, or pickup truck, especially when driving over the knobby hills of West Tennessee. Things would spill. Things would break. Balloons would pop. Before we’d run the orders in, we’d have to make sure none of the flowers broke, make sure the arrangements didn’t look sloppy, and pour water from one arrangement into another to make up for what was lost during the ride. Balloons are hard to drive with, especially in a vehicle that was overloaded with them. Strings would get tangled, and they wanted to escape and fly away wherever anyone opened the door.
Also, delivering was relentless. As soon as we unloaded everything and returned to the shop, we were reloaded and sent back out again. I was never in the big drop-offs like the schools, office buildings, or nursing homes. I was always in the delivery vehicles stopping at individual homes or small businesses. Stop after stop after stop.
One year while the vehicle was being reloaded, I hid somewhere and cried. And when my mother found me, she drug me back to the car and sent me back out again.
No crying in the flower shop business.
At the end of the day, when the deliveries were over, I would sit on the floor of the shop and watch my Pop sweep up all the stems and greenery that had been discarded to the floor all day. My mom happily entered all the credit card orders into the machine. My Aunt Mary often showed up to lay out a spread of ham sandwiches or fried chicken. And everyone would complain about how tired they were.
So no, I don’t miss it.
I don’t hate Valentine’s Day, but whenever I see an ad for a florist this time of year, I know that everyone in that business is going to work their ass off that day, and likely make their money for the year. More power to them for working it, but it’s not a life I want to return to. I like having my holidays and weekends.
I don’t miss the hectic days. I miss the quiet ones. The ones where no one came to the store. Days when we’d have one or two orders total, easy deliveries to either the hospital or the nursing home. I miss the days when we’d clean the store dancing to my Janet Jackson tape, paint T-shirts while watching soap operas, or unpack boxes of new merchandise.
And my time in the flower shop was not completely lost on me. I can now tie a bow. When I pick up flowers from Kroger, I know how to arrange them in my own vases. And I can drive while holding a container of liquid, that’s no longer a bud vase but is instead a cup of coffee.
However you tell your people you love them, I hope you have an amazing day. Show some love to your bestie, your bro, your people, and your loved ones. Don’t let the romance-mongers commandeer everyone’s holiday. And don’t forget to tip your delivery people.
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