Of course people send all types of flowers and plants to their loved ones for Valentine?s Day. Some even choose balloons or candy for their sweethearts. But, for most lovers, it?s all about the roses. Roses are their first, last and only choice for the holiday dedicated to love. I?ve come to this conclusion over the past several decades, having worked many, many Valentine?s Days at my family?s flower shop in Kansas City.
Dalton?s Flowers, now a Kansas City institution, was first opened by my grandparents? in 1937, just as the country was coming out of the Depression. Valentine?s Day at Dalton?s actually requires weeks of planning and preparation and typically begins shortly after the New Year. The roses are the main event and red roses are the big show in the center ring. With over 70 years in the business, my family has earned a mighty reputation for their roses ? always 84 centimeter beauties, a royal length by any standard.
Customers and their orders are the most important part of this holiday and where it all begins. For example, a man comes into the flower shop to place his order in person. Probably in his late eighties, he walks slowly to the counter. Before he places his order, he wants to tell you about her and their 60-year courtship, which has also been their 60-year marriage. After giving the details of his order, he steps away to write the card. Deep in private thought, he takes his time. When finished, he gently puts the card in an envelope and seals it very securely before handing it to the cashier.
Sometimes a soldier, stationed overseas, calls and places his order, his words broken by tears. He entrusts Dalton?s to deliver to his sweetheart a symbol of the romance he can?t be there to share in person.
The majority of customers place their orders over the phone. Taking the messages for the cards is the most fun part of the order process. Most of the time, the greeting is the simple and perfect ?I Love You.? Fairly frequently, though, you will hear after a long pause, ?I don?t know what to say. Can you help me?? Sometimes the message is very mysterious, decipherable only by the sender and the receiver. And, once in a while, the message is so intimate, it can make a seasoned florist blush.
Typically, Dalton?s sells between five and six thousand long-stem roses each Valentine?s Day. For this Midwest flower shop, there?s much drama and tension every year surrounding the sweetheart?s holiday. Could a winter snowstorm delay the big rose delivery coming from South America? When they arrive, will the roses be the high quality Dalton?s is known for? Or might they somehow, for some reason, be disappointing? Could there be an unexpected ice storm in Kansas City on the 13th or 14th, making delivery impossible on the day itself? All are real possibilities and each one of these scenarios or disasters has played out over the years.
Usually, the roses arrive about the 5th of 6th of February and this big day is a turning point in the holiday preparations. From that day, everything begins to accelerate. The roses, with names like Sophie, Cherish and Evening Star, are flown directly from my family?s grower in Ecuador to Kansas City. At Kansas City International Airport, they?re transferred to a tractor trailer and delivered to the flower shop. The heated trailer is parked for several days while the flowers are unloaded, cleaned and prepped, a few boxes at a time. Before long, Dalton?s is a rose world. Bucket after bucket of roses cover most of the available floor space. 5000 beautiful roses – there for one reason and one reason only ? ? to be delivered to someonoe to show them that they are loved.
Those last 10 days, before the 14th, are a marathon of escalating proportions and disorganized organization. There are long, long days and lots of overtime in a world of bustling chaos and loud, fabulous fun. There?s a mixture of laughter, frustration and comaraderie as a team of employees, friends, family and volunteers fill what seems to be an impossible number of orders. Friends, as well as relatives from my huge extended family, join in to help. All of the work could not be accomplished without them.
On the holidays that I worked, I?d stand for several days in a row at a? 6? design table, surrounded by several other tables with designers hard at work. I?d arrange vase after vase of roses – one dozen, two dozen, and sometimes three, four or five. It could have seemed monotonous, like an assembly line, but it never was. Standing ankle deep in rose petals with soaking wet shoes and sore, thorn-pricked fingers that resembled prunes, I had some of the happiest times in my life there. Nearly every inch of floor space was covered with buckets of flowers, greens, baby?s breath and puddles of water, leaving nothing but little narrow paths to slip and slide through. And everyone single one of us needed to negotiate those paths at lightning speed to get a job done for which there truly was not enough time. Vases of flowers ready for delivery spilled out of the coolers and into the hallways.
While fulfilling my ?rose girl? role, I?d say to anyone who might be listening or sometimes to myself in that very noisy design room, made louder by a ceaseless chorus of phones in the background, ?I?ve never seen roses like this. They are the most beautiful roses I?ve ever seen?. If anyone happened to hear, they would agree. For me, every year was the very best year for the roses.
At Dalton?s Flower Shop, I was surrounded by generous grandparents who loved their children, grandchildren and foster children as well as the heartbroken and homeless they welcomed into their big-hearted world. Their actions were reflected in the business they also loved, and to which they committed themselves. I learned about love and laughter, hard work and long hours, being part of and belonging.
Flowers are given for reasons of love and compassion and celebration. Their beauty and my family?s business have shaped my life. Despite the hard physical labor and uncertainty inherent in the floral business, its heart is joy. My uncles and aunt continue the tradition, living the example they were shown.