My mother grew accustomed to the little fist full of wilted wild flowers I would bring in from the fields and woods, which she lovingly put into a vase. She was in for a real surprise when we moved into Orlando during the Great Depression. My first experience in buying a bouquet from a florist was in that year, 1930. I was nine years old. Somehow, I had saved a whole quarter found on the school grounds in the summer after a rain. Coins had a way of staying put while the wet ground settled. The amount of a quarter was the most I’d ever had and I felt confident it would buy my mom a nice bouquet of flowers. It was very important that it be a surprise, mainly to cheer her up because we had lost our new home, built from scratch, in Gainesville where she had her flower garden. Now we rented, and it was difficult to always have the rent money on time. Flower gardens were an added expense and she was busy making do with an allowance of one dollar a day for food. Dad always marveled at mother’s good meals on so little money.
Since my mission was secret, I chose time from play when mom was occupied. I walked downtown about ten blocks from home. It was safe for a little girl to go alone to town then. I must have presented an appealing picture of a ragamuffin in overalls, barefoot with dirt smudged here and there, no doubt the knees were out or patched and my long waist length curls a bit tangled. With the twenty-five cent piece held between thumb and forefinger, eyes large with wonder and excitement, I opened the big door of the fine shop, Violet Dell, next to the San Juan Hotel on Orange Avenue. A tall pleasant woman smiled down at me and asked if she could help. (I later learned she was the owner). Her very gentle voice had a welcoming sound.
“I would like a bouquet of flowers for my mother. It’s a surprise.” The nice lady turned to a huge refrigerator case filled with flowers behind glass doors.
“Would you like to pick out some? Which ones do you like?”
I saw mostly roses, so beautiful it was quite an awesome choice to make. I knew nothing about their cost and pointed to the long stemmed sunset colored talismans and whispered excitedly, “I like those!”
“And what would you like with them?”
“I guess, some fern.”
“Let’s put some of this too,” and this dear lady added lots of lavender and purple statice to one dozen roses. Meanwhile, I was thinking that was about right for the huge amount of a quarter. After carefully wrapping the bouquet in thin waxed green paper florists used then, she placed the fragrant loveliness in my arms, which could barely reach around it, and then smiling, opened the big door bidding me goodbye with, “I hope your mother enjoys them.”
What a sight I made having difficulty peering around the large bouquet higher than my head, trying to keep from bumping into people and stumbling down the curbs. When I arrived home, I gave the flowers to an amazed mom. She quickly made an arrangement in our finest vase and set them on the majestic radio in the corner of the living room for all the family and neighbors to enjoy. Most of all, through the years, we enjoyed the kindness of the thoughtful lady for sharing her love with strangers by a little girl’s desire to cheer her mother. It all has a direct line to God, His lovely Will being done on Earth.
Update: The Bouquet of Kindness.
February 19, 1994
This story was edited and published in the Saturday Special page of THE ORLANDO SENTINEL responding to “What are your most vivid memories of the Great! Depression and the 1930’s.” The Editor received a fax from Betty Caruthers and kindly sent it to me:
“Ann Barnes made my husband’s day, and I want to thank her. If she ever has time “Red” would love to talk with Ann. Her letter also brought back fond memories from several people who called Red to be sure he saw the article about his Mother. They wanted to share their fond memories of the wonderful lady who owned the “Violet Dell” florist; actually I think they wanted Red to know they got the biggest bouquet for their Mother or girl friend for only ---a quarter. Again, thank you for sharing and making “Red’s” day with your fond memory of his Mother, Mrs. Lena Mary Cooper Caruthers, Miss Lena or Aunt Lena.”
I have enjoyed, tremendously, talking with Red. “Miss Lena” must be smiling down from Heaven while her kindness lives on!
After the publication of my story, a lady appeared at my door with a very big bouquet of roses and I said, “You have the wrong address, I don’t know anyone who would send me a bouquet like that!” Then this lovely person identified herself as Michele, and expressed the desire to duplicate the bouquet in the story about the kind owner of Violet Dell in the thirties and she was the manager of the present Violet Dell now located in Winter Park. We had a happy visit and I found out Michele lives near Lake Davis and we see each other there when she walks her dog and I walk myself. “Miss Lena” your kindness brought another kind person into my life and as I keep sharing your story, only God knows where He is sending your good influence. You have blessed so many by your gracious giving of yourself and your flowers.
Excerpt from Michele’s letter.
It was my pleasure to arrive on your doorstep with that bouquet of roses and to be welcomed into your lovely home. I have attended some “shows” of your artwork at different locations, but none can compare to the personal tour and commentary, as the one you gave me in your home. Upon leaving, you presented me with a copy of your watercolor and pencil drawing of “Bouquet of Kindness.” which I cherish. I am very excited about your forthcoming book, “Miss Ann’s Art” and look forward to purchasing a copy and having it signed by you.
With sincere friendship,