"Can you weed a garden?" This was the entire interview for my first job. When I answered in the affirmative, the follow up question was, "Can you get here by 9:30?" The application, such as it was, consisted of my future boss writing my name and phone number on the back of a green order pad of the sort used in diners. My only reference was a pal from school band who had worked there the prior summer. Clearly, this was not a job requiring security clearance, or for that matter, even a Social Security number. This was working for Darlene.
Darlene ran a floral shop out of the front of her house and yard. Her summer uniform consisted of double-knit polyester shorts, a cotton smock with patch pockets, flip flops, a fisherman's hat, and a cigarette. She was barely over 5' tall, "sturdily built," and didn't take any guff. Darlene believed in liberal politicians, church attendance for teaching kids morals, reheating coffee on the stove, a loop of floral wire was enough of a "lock" for her gate, and that everyone should be able to afford fresh flowers, even if it was only a single carnation (she'd throw in a little greenery to dress it up).
As promised, on that first day for Darlene, I weeded. Her pressing need that morning was to prepare her back yard for a graduation party for her son, who was completing law school. She was appropriately proud, but knew with fresh cut flowers in the house and bedding plants out front, she had to hope for nice weather and host the party in the back yard. After a few days of weeding and cleaning up the back yard, I was promoted to sweeping the front walk and selling bedding plants (divided, thankfully, into annuals and perennials on different sides of the front walk, and sun vs. shade front to back). I watered and sold and, as the summer progressed, was asked to help out with making boutonnieres and corsages for weddings.
When I left for college, I was asked back on weekends to assist with more weddings as well as lilies at Easter. Easter also brought the lily wreath that had previously been the purview of her son, the freshly minted lawyer. I was shown the large foam wreath form, the boxes of blooms (prepped in floral "picks" with water in them), the bow for the bottom, and given the one direction, "keep them all facing the same direction as you go." Darlene disappeared upstairs leaving me with the basement bench, the smell of lilies, and a lot of anxiety (mine only - she trusted my eye for flowers). I got a call from Darlene when I was back at college telling me how lovely the wreath had looked at the church ("one of the best").
After that first wreath, there was never an opportunity for a second; the shop had closed by the time the next Easter came. This is some of the wisdom I gleaned from Darlene: tuck the holder for a handheld bride's bouquet in a beer stein so you have both hands free; roses should smell good, not just look pretty; have faith in your endeavors (a neighborhood flower shop can flourish even on a side street); share praise. And even a single carnation can be enough to bring someone a little joy.
Who was your favorite, or most interesting, boss?