How hard could it be…Making Valentine’s Day memories…for others

Several thousand roses later, Holly embraces the job. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

 Roses are red
Yours are yellow
You are loved
Very much by this fellow

Such was the poem my new boyfriend, Marty Nadler, enclosed with a pot of yellow roses which I placed on the deck of our funky apartment on what was known colloquially as Dog Beach in Malibu.

Marty and I had recently moved in together, and for our first Valentine’s Day he gave me those roses and the rhyme. You might have said he was a better comedy writer than a poet — at that time he was story editor on the hit TV show “Laverne & Shirley” — but I was enchanted by this attempt at a sonnet. If you put it up there with “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? / Thou art more lovely and more temperate,” it might come up short, but for the rest of our years together — 25 in all — we invoked this poem when we felt affectionate. Or needed a good laugh.

Relationships are built on memories. Inevitably there are two piles, one GOOD, one BAD, and whichever one outweighs the other is going to be the decider. Valentine’s Day presents all lovers with an opportunity to place another weight on the GOOD side of the scale.

With this idea that Valentine’s Day is more than a cheap bid for consumer dollars, I volunteered to help this past Monday at Morrice Florist in Vineyard Haven. Although I have no sweetie of my own, and find all my need for unconditional love met by my Boston terrier, I nonetheless threw myself into this heady occasion to see how things fared on the love front as signified by the purchase of flowers.

I was greeted by owner Kim O’Callahan. It was 10:30 in the morning, and she was already ambushed by lots and lots of red roses spread out on the long work table facing the eastern bank of windows. Boxes of flowers, newly delivered, were stacked up close behind her.

“This is our biggest time of the year!” she said. “It’s the whole reason to keep the heat on in the winter. We get orders coming in all this week, but most of the men come in on the 14th. They pack the store. Sometimes there’s a line out the door.”

I wondered how 99 percent of the men in the world could be Last Minute Guys? Maybe that explained why men rushed their countries into war? They sat around and stood around and played around and took meetings until in the 11th hour when they phoned their generals and said, “What the heck, let’s send in the troops and drop a whole buncha bombs!”

But there was no time for further scrutiny because I was handed a few dozen roses and a clawed device for stripping down the leaves and thorns. Kim’s helper, Linda Carroll, took whole batches of flower stems and lopped off the ends in a single stroke with a pen knife. Then Kim, Linda, Laurie Meyst, and I ripped through bundles of tulips, baby’s breath, blue and white hydrangeas, lavender mums, and a ton of more red roses with a zeal that astonished me. I wondered if the indescribably sweet fragrance of flowers lifted one’s mood, and maybe even, while it was at it, healed boo boos and cured cancer.

I told the others about the roses Marty would give me all the time in our early days — until I heard how expensive they were, whereupon I said to him, “Could you just give me the cash?”

Moments like that put a weight on the BAD side of the love scale.

Out in the store, Sue Peters helped a man in his forties, tall, thin, with a black cap that read “ARMY” on it. I sidled out to meet this fellow who was ordering flowers on the early side. His girlfriend had said ix-nay on the flowers, but this smart man double-checked with his g.f.’s b.g.f. who said, “Of course get her flowers! And send them to her work place!”

Every woman wants others to see what a sweet guy she has, right?

Back in the work room, Kim related stories about her family. The business had originally belonged to her grandparents. One time grandpa was dispatched to Boston with a wad of money to buy roses. The blizzard of ’78 blew in, and grandpa filled the time by drinking. He returned to the Island with a new Camaro.

Some years later, Kim’s mom fell sick and underwent chemotherapy, but she still insisted on supervising the crew at the Valentine’s rush. When Kim showed up, her mother and her helpers, pranksters all, pretended to be engrossed in a game of cards around a folding table.

After I’d spent hours amid the scent of flowers, and with tumblers of blossoms we’d prepped now encircling the workplace, I was intoxicated. I wanted someone to buy me roses.

I dialed Marty in Florida. “Would you like to order some roses for the mother of your son?”

He said without missing a beat, “I called Morrice’s earlier. No matter how much I begged, they refused to deliver a bouquet of dead flowers.”

As millennials write in their texts, hahahahahahaha!

I could always send myself some roses, but…I’d rather have the cash.