Thursday, May 29, 2014

Memoir of a Flower Delivery Person

Design Sponge photo
I believe that to be a good writer, you must read, read, read. I think C.S. Lewis nailed it when he wrote, "We read to know we are not alone." Listening to other voices helps us to find our own, and, even as old as I am, I know I still have much to learn.

I have been a subscriber to Design*Sponge for a long time and enjoy the people profiles they do which always include lots of great photos. Last week they did a story called "A Day in the Life of Ruthie Lindsey," an interior designer, stylist and creative director who seems to be well known on Instagram. Lindsey talked about how much she loves springtime and all the flowers that appear at this loveliest time of year. She uses them often in her design work and, from the photos, she has a true affinity for showcasing a variety of blossoms. She said, "I think being a delivery girl for a florist would be such fun - you get to make people SO happy!"

After I finished reading her story and drooling over those wonderful pictures, I went back to that paragraph to re-read that sentence. You see, I once worked as a delivery girl for a florist.

I lived in Key West from 1975-1982. It was a great place to be as a young woman in my twenties, but, with no college education, it was a challenge to make a livable wage. I do not remember ever having less than two jobs. The usual arrangement was a full time job as a typesetter and a part time job as a waitress or barmaid. I was always combing the Classified Ads in the local newspaper, the Key West Citizen, for a job that paid more. It's what you do in your twenties, isn't it? Then, one day, while eating lunch and browsing the want ads, a little ad caught my eye: "Flower Delivery Driver; part-time; some shop duties. Good pay."

Yep. I called.
The flower shop, American Beauty Florist, was located on Truman Avenue, across the street from my day job at Green Street Graphics. The irony of that was not lost on me, either. I spoke to a man, Larry, and he wanted me to come in for an interview the next day.

Now, I don't have any idea how many people applied for that job. It was summer 1979, so I'm thinking 'not many.' It's not like it was a career building job. It was the kind of job that a retired person might do for extra income.

I don't remember a lot of the details of the interview. Larry did most of the talking, with occasional questions coming from his wife, Judith. They were older, somewhere in the neighborhood of 50, and they had two doberman pinschers, so I knew they were cool. I do remember the very last question though. Judy asked it. "Can you type?"

"Well, shucks! Yeah!" I answered, quickly! Larry asked when I could start; how about the next day? And, that was the beginning of a wonderful friendship. I would go on to work for Judy and Larry until I left Key West in 1982. Whenever I went back for a visit, I would call ahead and arrange for a visit with them while I was in town. There were a couple of Fantasy Fest weekends when I drove down from Fort Lauderdale and was their house guest. I loved them both and, as Judy often said, Larry thought I was special. He always held me accountable for my performance, but it was always crystal clear that he liked me. He may have been the first man I ever knew that liked me for me.

There was an art to delivering flowers in Key West in those days. Key West was only just beginning to become the tourist destination it is today. It was still very much a Navy town. Larry knew the island like the back of his hand, so in the beginning, he would mark where I was going on a map and the order the deliveries were to take. The roses always were delivered first! I drove a white Chevrolet van with no air conditioning and the typical route was a big circle around the island. Larry was very particular about how the flowers were presented. I was supposed to park as close to the door of my destination as I could and leave the motor running. I'd pull back that sliding door, check the name on the card that was tucked into the bouquet with the name on my list, grab the bouquet, sliding the door closed, and knock on a door announcing, "American Beauty!" He was very specific about that and I worked as though he were right behind me, watching every move I made. I knew he knew a lot of folks, so I wasn't taking any chances. I liked this job and I wanted to keep it, so I didn't need any tattletales telling Larry I didn't do it right!

I delivered flowers to the U.S. Naval Air Stations at Truman Annex and Boca Chica. I delivered uncut flowers to La Terraza de Marti, the Pier House and the Casa Marina twice a week. I delivered flowers to churches for weddings and funerals, and to homes and apartments for anniversaries and birthdays. My personal favorite was delivering flowers to the hospital on Stock Island for the newborn babies. Judy created the most adorable bouquets of flowers, whether for a boy or a girl, and it was delightful to be the one to present them to a new mother. I picked up flowers from the Key West airport twice a week unless it was a flower holiday. Then, I picked up three times a week. My little pooch, Snuggles, always accompanied me on deliveries and we loved the ride on South Roosevelt Boulevard along the ocean to get to and from the airport.

Snuggles, keeping watch
at the front door of the shop.
Snuggles was a cockapoo and had the sweetest disposition of any dog I've ever known. Judy loved her dearly and Snuggles spent a great deal of her time in Judy's lap, unless we were delivering flowers. She was very popular at LaTeDa and the Pier House and her popularity allowed me the opportunity to meet some amazing people. Larry would get calls for flowers, but only if Snuggles delivered them. That's how we met Tennessee Williams, Calvin Klein and Nancy Friday, among others.

The big flower holidays were (and, still are) Valentine's Day and Mother's Day, although Larry did quite a good business at Thanksgiving and Christmas. He was a hustler and American Beauty Florist was a success for those many years because he had a good business brain and Judy had a fabulous design gene. They had good people working for them, too.

Of all the jobs I have had in my lifetime, working for Judy and Larry was my favorite job ever. I worked my butt off delivering flowers; it was very physical work and Larry was always watching the clock. He knew how long it should take. But, I loved it! No one was ever unhappy to receive flowers, and there's something to be said for a job that always delivers smiles!

Ruthie Lindsey said, "I think being a delivery girl for a florist would be such fun - you get to make people SO happy!" I'm here to tell you she is absolutely right!

Larry passed away in 2007, and, fortunately for me, I got a chance to visit with him that summer. Judy passed away in 2012 and I still have the last note she sent with her annual Christmas card. They were, without question, a wonderful couple and I'm glad they were a part of my life. The last time I saw Larry, he sent me home with a frangipani tree in a pot. I planted it in my back yard and today it is about 15 feet tall and covered with fragrant white flowers. My darling husband thinks it's funny that I call the tree "Larry," but I'm sure that wherever he and Judy are, they're looking down smiling. Once a flower person, always a flower person! Right?

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