It's Wednesday after Mothers' Day, 1997, and there are only two red roses left in our garage. Their destinations haven't been decided.
I ordered boxes and boxes of roses, carnations, mums and the trimmings to sell on Mothers' Day. Somebody else had set up at my usual spot, so I set up beside an ice cream store in Bridgeport, a village east of Baldwinsville, the small town in Central New York where my husband and I live with our two children.
After years of holiday fundraising for the Unification Movement, I still think that the best way to celebrate a day like Mothers' Day is to surround myself with buckets of flowers and offer people a chance to show their love and appreciation for others by giving them flowers.
I sold several buckets of bouquets on Saturday. I have a soft spot in my heart for kids wanting to buy flowers for their moms, so I let them buy roses for a dollar off my usual price. I gave little children the roses and carnations whose stems had broken.
On Sunday I arrived early expecting a busy day. However, there were long waits between customers. "Happy Mother's Day to you," people would say after giving me money. "That is, if you are a mother yourself."
"I am," I replied.
"Why didn't you bring your children along with you today?" someone asked. Small-town America is family-oriented.
A stooped-shouldered lady slowly dragged her shopping cart by me. "Did anyone give you a rose yet today?" I called out. She turned and shook her head. "Then let me give you one," I said walking over to her. Her shoulders lifted a bit.
I can't help it. I like giving flowers away. Would I feel this urge if there were no God? Would volunteers answer our appeals from the Volunteer Center in Baldwinsville (of which I am director) if God didn't create us with a giving nature, this willingness to give and give whether we receive anything tangible in return? Would we feel a joy in giving?
Dozens of bouquets still remained in my buckets after the sun set and traffic died down. The flowers needed homes. An even greater challenge than selling large quantities of flowers is planning how to give them away. A strategy has to be developed, address lists compiled and delivery routes drawn up. The people you find at home keep asking why you are giving them flowers. They want to invite you in to chat.
I took roses to volunteer drivers who take elderly people to medical appointments. I gave them to retired engineers who will take a sick person anywhere in the county on a few hours notice, and their jaws dropped. Roses went to tutors who volunteer to work with middle school students. People told me stories about their dogs, their children, and their cancer treatments.
I took roses to those who call asking for help. Old ladies who need help getting to doctor appointments opened their doors and invited me in without realizing who I was. The next morning one of them called me at the office to apologize for not realizing who I was until after I left. We help two blind women, and I learned that they love receiving flowers. The corners of their mouths turn up, and their eyelashes flutter.
Eighteen astonished Christmas Bureau committee members each got a half dozen roses. Every autumn they solicit donations and then sort and pack food, toys and gifts for over a thousand needy people in our community. "A small token of appreciation," was my explanation for knocking on their door in the spring time. Joanna insisted on serving me lunch. Enid sent a thank-you card that read, "In life's garden, kindness is the sweetest flower." Liz wasn't home, but I put the feet of her roses in moist soil near her front door where she would be sure to see them. Today she told me, "I was going to get mad at you for sending a newspaper reporter to interview me, but after I found the roses I couldn't." [When reporter working on a feature for the Syracuse newspapers asked for names of people who live sacrificially so they can serve the community, I referred her to Liz.]
Forty-five bouquets went to the Meals on Wheels kitchen to be delivered to the homebound along with their hot lunch. A dozen roses went to the local domestic violence shelter, where vases had stood empty all weekend. Maryel at the Rescue Mission thrift shop found a pitcher in which to place two dozen roses to share with surprised shoppers.
There's a contagion about giving. Roses went to a librarian, piano teacher, dentist, hairdresser, laundromat, and the Chamber of Commerce.
I've had the roses for a week now, and their stalks are still straight and their heads firm. A woman who raises goats traded tulips for roses. She explained that if you remove the stamens and pistil of the tulips, you can use them a serving cups for ice cream. She gave me a taste of goat-milk ice cream. When I close my eyes I can still see flowers.
I'm looking at the last two roses and wondering where they will find a home.
Into the Volunteer Center office on Thursday walked a 17-year-old boy. He stole some things and a judge ordered him to do 25 hours of community service. He has been procrastinating about making arrangements. There was a serious look in his eyes, and I tried to get him to talk a bit about himself. He had started his senior year of high school as an honor student but dropped out last September. Tuesday night three of his friends died in a car accident; the driver ran a stop sign at a country crossroads. The fourth kid in the car, also a friend of his, is in serious condition. This winter another of his friends died in a drug-related incident. A fifth friend died last year in a tragic house fire caused by a burning cigarette. This young man is shaken. I suggested that he think about the direction of his life and invited him to come back to chat when he has time. I also referred him to the Family Resource Center down the street; they have a drop-in program for teens. As he turned to leave, I handed him a rose.
The other rose went to the head of a manufacturing company that underwrites a local award for teen volunteers.