The Flower Lady
Jonathan B. Ferrini
“The Flores Family Flower Shop” was founded by my grandfather at a road side stand and grew to become a fifty-year-old favorite within San Diego.
I drive the truck to the wholesale flower market at 4:30 in the morning six days per week, purchase the flowers for the day, and unload them at the store. I also do the flower deliveries.
My pop handles the office, my mom and sister are expert flower arrangers, and we all work the phone orders and the counter.
The “cycle of life” is inherent within the florist business; birth, birthdays, graduations, marriages, sickness, and death. We do our best to provide cheer or empathy to our clients depending upon the circumstances.
We are “first responders” to the savagery of Covid, working tirelessly to accommodate the multitude of funeral arrangements required.
Covid didn’t “discriminate” when choosing victims. So was the case of “June”, a “soccer mom” whose thriving home-based bookkeeping service failed due to the many restaurant and bar clients shuttered by regulatory closures. The loss of a second source of income, the distractions associated with the children seeking assistance with their home-based on-line school instruction, a husband working overtime at work and with his mistress, placed pressures upon an already crumbling marriage.
June could no longer afford the stress relieving personal athletic trainer and yoga instruction, and sought stress relief from drinking wine. The increasing wine consumption ceased relieving the stress, and June turned to Oxy found within the medicine cabinet. When the Oxy ran out, she sought sedatives from her physicians based upon fabricated ailments. When the pharmacies and physicians caught wind of the medical charade, June was cut off from her daily “fix”.
The substance abuse interfered with June’s responsibilities as a mom resulting in her husband divorcing June, taking the home and custody of their pre-teen son and daughter. The judge ruled June to be an “unfit mother”.
June found herself homeless with her sole possessions being her minivan and clothes. Her friends and family weren’t keen on helping a “substance abuser” and abandoned her.
June took to living in an inexpensive motel room, subsisting on unemployment insurance until it was exhausted and she was forced to live in her minivan. The stress of living in a car, seeking different places to park each evening, often told to leave by security or police, led to the need for heavier sedation which she found in heroin. June looked into her rear-view mirror and saw a prematurely aging junkie staring back at her.
Seeking a quick nap on a comfortable couch inside an art museum, June marvelled at the beautiful flowers painted by Van Gogh. She dreamed of running free and happy through a field of sunflowers. She was awoken by the security guard and ejected but developed an idea.
Word spread throughout town. A “Flower Lady” was wandering about giving out flowers to strangers in hopes of a handout. We suspected the source of her flowers were the waste bins behind flower shops.
As I returned one morning from the wholesale flower mart, I saw a beat-up minivan with a person sleeping inside. I flashed my lights at the car, awakening what appeared to be a female occupant, who sped away.
I opened the trash bin, and noticed all of the discarded slightly fresh flowers had been picked through, necessitating a lock.
Pop said, “Let ‘em have them. Better giving pleasure to somebody than landing at the dump.”
Every morning, over the course of a week, the trash dumpster was picked through. I parked the truck down the block, and hid to find the woman with the minivan carefully assembling bouquets of discarded flowers. She was quick and demonstrated a skill at arranging beautiful sets of flowers. I let her finish and leave, before bringing the delivery truck around.
I told Pop who suggested we set a “trap” by leaving a fast-food breakfast, coffee, orange juice, and a dozen roses with an invitation to come inside and meet pop.
June “took the bait”. She entered the store carefully as if fearing arrest. Pop greeted her and invited her inside his office to sit, handing her a cup of coffee she grasped and savored.
Pop had an instinct about people. I think it was June’s eyes which won him over. Her eyes were dark orbits with tired red pupils, teary, frightened, craving love and understanding. They spoke to Pop’s emotions.
June was about 5’2’’ inches tall, emaciated, with long, stringy, dirty blond hair becoming gray. The substance abuse and stress of living in a minivan made a woman in her mid-thirties look to be in her late forties.
June’s clothing and shoes were thrift store cast offs. There was a faint scent of urine about her suggesting the lack of a shower and toilet facilities for days. The lines and wrinkles in her face resembled deep, raging rivers leading to her soul, eventually drowning her, alone in an alley, with the only mourners being garbage cans.
“Don’t be afraid, ma’am. What’s your name?”
“June. I’m sorry for taking your flowers. I won’t return. Please don’t call the police!”
“My name is Hernan, June, and I won’t call the police. I want to help you.”
After hearing June’s circumstances, Pop recanted,
“When I came to San Diego, I was broke and lived inside my beat-up station wagon parked next to my roadside flower stand. I understand hard times, June. I need extra help today. We’re slammed with customers, as it’s prom season. I’ll pay you $100 cash. We close at 7:00.”
June cleaned up in the bathroom and we provided her a clean shirt and florist apron to cover her disheveled clothing. She immediately went to work at the counter and taking phone orders.
June related to the emotional suffering of a teenage girl without a date requiring a corsage to the prom,
“This corsage is beautiful, darling. I’m certain you’ll attract many gentlemen to dance with you.”
June was empathetic with a young man selecting flowers for a first date,
“What’s your budget, Sir?”
“I was hoping to spend under $10.”
“I suggest a single rose. It will include a beautiful fern, lovely wrapping, and I’ll tie a ribbon around it for $5.00. She’ll love it!”
June began to sob, and retreated to the restroom. My mother knocked on the door and asked to be let in to console her.
“Why are your crying, June? You’re doing a wonderful job!”
“The teenage girl and young man are the age of my children taken from me. I haven’t seen them in months and may never will!”
“June, honey, there’s a nightly non-denominational substance abuse meeting run by a female pastor named “Sunny Dominguez”. Many of my son’s friends have benefited from these meetings. Between your hard work here, and your meetings, we’ll have a lawyer convince the judge to grant you visitation rights.
“You’re about the same size of my daughter. The three of us we’ll go through her closet and I’m certain Lupe will be pleased to have you pick out and keep any clothing she no longer wears.
“Sunday dinner is a big deal around our house. Please consider yourself a permanent guest.”
Mom held June tightly until she could resume work.
June had a glow on her face, bolstered by pride in a good day’s work, $100 bill, and a new found confidence in seeing her children.
Pop offered June a full-time job, and use of a cot in the store room where she could live until she got back on her feet.
In the ensuing weeks, June was always pleasant, upbeat, and hard working. The work around the store, combined with the opportunity to meet similarly situated people of all ages at the sobriety meetings, brought June happiness and sobriety.
June mastered all facets of the business including the register, taking phone orders, creating flower designs, and even making deliveries and pick ups when I wasn’t available. Customers would call and ask for June by name.
About three months into the job, June was excited to report she had been granted a visitation hearing and hoped her regular substance abuse meetings and Pop’s testimony would win visitation rights with her children.
Pop attended the visitation hearing, sadly reporting the judge denied visitation rights citing “unproven sobriety”.
June never returned to work.
We hadn’t seen June for months until I arrived one morning and saw her minivan. She was slumped across the steering wheel, a hypodermic needle within her arm, and an envelope marked for Pop. Alongside her body were opened photo albums showing her family; likely her last moments together with those she loved.
Pop opened the envelope, and found a cashier’s check payable to a funeral home for a cremation and scattering of ashes at sea. There was a second cashier’s check made payable to our flower shop, requesting the creation of a simple spray of tropical flowers.
Mom and my sister immediately went to work on the funeral “spray”. We charged no fee for the “spray” choosing instead to donate the check to Sunny’s substance abuse center. The funeral home provided a 50% discount and donated the remainder to the same cause.
It was sunset when the boat sailed around Point Loma and into the Pacific Ocean. All of our family was aboard. June’s family chose not to attend.
Sunny Dominguez eulogized,
“The world is full of fragile souls with loving hearts who become lost on their journey through life. When faced with adversity, and despite valiant efforts to recover, they succumb. June was one such soul.
She was fortunate to have met your family and receive your love and compassion. She will always be a member of your family, and you’ll find solace in the belief you were chosen to help June.”
June’s ashes were placed inside a water proof floating container along with her photo albums. The beautiful tropical spray was attached to the container and placed into the ocean by Pop.
We watched June’s “vessel” quickly carried by the ocean current west towards tropical paradise as the sun set into the ocean.
“Bon Voyage, Flower Lady.”
“We love you!”
photo by Harry Rajchgot