The block I grew up on was double-sized. Adjacent to our house was an alley that divided the block, but it had never been rocked or paved, so it was a wide grassy strip that connected all the backyards in the neighborhood.
There were a lot of families living on the block, so we kids would traverse the alley and use it as an extra play space.
The grade school, now long-gone, was nearby, and it had been the high school. Because of that, there were several businesses that had located along the street to the west of us. They dwindled over time, but we still had two beauty shops, a barbershop, a dental office and a florist within spitting distance.
Rogers’ flower shop was at the west end of the alley, and behind the store, there was a small mound of dirt that they’d use for potting plants. But after hours, it was another place to play. Growing up in the flattest county in Illinois, any kind of hill was a rare thing. I wonder how many plastic army men and matchbox cars they dug out of that hill over the years.
The florist was a mom-and-pop shop operated by Bill and Irene Rogers — a virtual Norman Rockwell couple who embodied small-town, heartland entrepreneurship. We were always a little afraid that they’d run us off if we were caught playing on the mound of dirt, but we needn’t have been. They were kind to the kids in the neighborhood.
Kind and generous. It makes good business sense.
Back in those days, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, kids didn’t have a lot of money. Dimes were like dollars, and a quarter was a windfall. If you found a nickel on the sidewalk, your net worth just doubled.
Downtown, there was a five-and-dime store, which is where most of my change went. I’m pretty sure you could buy comic books, toys and trading cards there, but all my time was spent in the candy aisle. Aside from satisfying my sweet tooth, the candy lane fit my budget better.
But my younger brother, Matt, liked to shop at Rogers’ Florist. He was well aware of Bill and Irene’s soft spot for kids.
He might have been only 3 or 4, but we had free-range kids back then. He could get to the flower shop without having to cross a street. He would go in and tell Irene that he wanted to buy a bouquet for his mother. She’d ask him how much he wanted to spend, and he’d reach deep into his pocket and pull out all his money. One dime. That’s it.
She’d take the dime and fix him up a fistful of flowers. She never turned him down.
But that was good business, too. Matt grew up and moved away, but anytime he needed flowers, he shopped only at Rogers’ Florist. It would have been convenient to use a local shop, but that would have been disloyal.
I was living in Springfield when I got married, but the ceremony was in Tuscola. Naturally, we had Rogers handle the flowers. I remember not only did they do a fabulous job, but they also sent a beautiful gift, which outlasted the marriage. I’d be hard-pressed to name who gave us what, but I remember that gift, and I still have it nearly 30 years later.
The shop eventually changed hands and has sat empty for several years now. Flowers fade and wilt, but the kindnesses are still here, thriving in our memories.
Those little kindnesses shape us and multiply over time. In this era of scorched-earth politics and the snarkfest of Facebook, it’s good to remember the Bill and Irenes of the world and to try to emulate them. Kindness makes people better, and better people make for a better world.
© Copyright 2019 by David Porter, who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. We could use a little more flower power today and the metaphorical return of the 10-cent bouquet.