Many years ago, I did a six year stint as a florist. My first husband and I had just moved to Rochester, NY where he was going to work for Kodak, and I was at loose ends, having given up my job at Stanford University to go with him. Rockcastle Florist, a local business, was opening a branch right near our apartment. On a whim, I went in to leave my name and suggest if they needed help I was eager and cheap. When the owner got back from her honeymoon, she hired me.
Ellie Blum was one of the best bosses I have ever had. She worked as hard or harder than any of her employees, and she was never above sweeping the floors or scrubbing out flower buckets. She had a vision for what her business could be and she made it happen. She was fair, mentoring, and funny. Thanks, Ellie, wherever you are!
At first, I swept the floors, dusted the shelves, watered the plants, took orders over the phone, and put away the flowers when they arrived from the wholesalers. In those days, many flowers came from California and some from Central America. I'd strip the thorns off the roses, cut their stems diagonally with a sharp knife, and place them in bleached water to keep them fresh. Some flowers needed their stems mashed, others lasted better when cut with shears.
The reasons that people come in to a florist are many, and the vast majority are to make someone else feel good. It's a nice business, to be surrounded by floral beauty, heady scents, and good intentions all day. It's not all beer and skittles, however. Florists have a higher incidence of arthritis than almost any other career - in and out of coolers with hands dipped frequently in cold water and standing on one's feet for 8-10 hours daily is a recipe for arthritis.
And the days are often long, and always longest just when you'd like to be with your own family - Christmas, Valentine's Day, Easter, Mother's Day, summer Saturdays when weddings happen, etc. When your product is perishable, not much can be done ahead.
In my sales capacity, I'd show the FTD book full of colorful examples to customers and discuss with them any changes they'd like to see, take their payments, and post the orders for the designers. I mourned with those who came in to make funeral arrangements, gently dissuaded a cuckolded husband from sending his wife dead roses, helped giggling high schoolers to choose the corsages and boutonnieres for their prom dates, soothed nervous brides as I fluffed their trains on the way down the aisle, and rejoiced when someone sent flowers to a new mother.
As I grew in knowledge, I decided I wanted to design flower arrangements as well as sell them. I learned on the job in several weeks of frustrating lessons. The senior designers showed me line and proportion, color and shape, flower and greens choice over and over - I was not a natural.
But I loved it and I still do. At weddings, I notice the flowers more than the bride's dress. I like to use fresh flowers whenever possible on my dining table. I decorate the outside of my house for the changing seasons with a wreath or a potted plant. I'm a good floral customer, even years after I left the business.
Every year, we would watch the Rose Parade from Pasadena on television, watching to see the FTD float, which usually won a prize for the most beautiful, and the Kodak float, out of loyalty to my husband's business. At Rockcastle's, we could never get any flowers to sell after Christmas - only potted plants and dish gardens, as seemingly all the other flowers in the known universe went to Pasadena to decorate the floats.
I had always wanted to see it in person. This year, having no family in town, My Beloved and I decamped after Christmas to drive down the beautiful Highway 101 through central California to the Rose Parade.
The theme of this year's parade was "Oh, the places you'll go," from the Dr. Seuss book of that name. We watched the parade itself on television again this year but went to the "Float Viewing" where they park the floats along the avenues in Pasadena and thousands upon thousands of people stroll by to marvel at the design, the artistry, and the bounty of flowers.
They aren't kidding when they call it the Rose Parade. Every float was covered with thousands upon thousands of roses. Seeing them from afar on TV, I had always assumed that they took the roses apart and used individual petals to decorate the floats but, nope, they use the whole thing. In the photo of the goose, notice that she is surrounded by a full carpet of roses! And each float was like this, using thousands of flowers on each one. It was a florist's dream come true. In places, the whole air smelled of flowers the way the inside of the cooler at Rockcastle's always did.
And, not only did they use roses, they used every conceivable kind of plant material. The photo above shows mixed greens, green apples, yellow roses, green cymbidium orchids, hot pink gerbera daisies and - what??? - purple cabbages! to decorate the Kaiser Permanente float with the parade theme, my favorite of all. The colors and the whimsy of that float resonated with me - I loved every aspect of its design and creation.
As we took the shuttle bus back to the excellent LA Metro system (how come we never hear about this marvelous system?), foot weary and a little sunburned, my head was full of images of the marvelous floats. In all the places I have gone and things I have done, this one will stand out in my memory as one of the most joyous.