My mom's mother came to visit us once while we were living in Utah. She and my crazy Uncle Mike (stories about him shared here, here and here) piled up in the car with my cousin Michael and drove from Arkansas to Utah with my grandmother in her 70's as her birthday gift. I was 16 years old at the time and had just gotten my first job working at a Wendy's about 3 miles from home. There was a massive hill between me and my job though, so walking it every day was nearly impossible. More than half of the trip to work was up the gigantic incline. Even at a very strong, stout 16 years old, it was too much for my little limbs. Uncle Mike drove me to work a couple of times while they were there.
I happened to have the day off of work that summer for her birthday, and since I had a job finally I had some extra money in my pocket after buying my school clothes for the next year. Since the day I knew they were coming, I hoarded away $30 to spend on something just for her, and I never told anyone about it. Her birthday was on a Saturday that year.
I woke up around 5am that morning and began my climb around 7, after a shower and running a brush through my hair. I was never up that early on weekends, and I ended up sneaking out the back door. I wouldn't tell anyone where I was going because I didn't want anyone to know what I was doing. It was a surprise, I couldn't take the chance of her finding out what I was up to. I already knew what I wanted to get, I just had to go fetch it.
I walked and walked. I hiked up that hill, sweating like crazy that hot morning. The sun was beating down on my head, boiling my brain inside a soupy skull by 10 that morning. Bugs bit at my legs, I twisted my ankle on a rock by the side of the road, some idiot in a pick up truck was too busy reading a map to see me walking along the road and nearly hit me, and a 60 year old creepy guy on a motorcycle offered to take me for a ride. I just kept on up that hill, walking in the weeds (there were no sidewalks on Ritter Drive) and ignoring any distractions - except jumping out of the way of the pickup truck.
By 10:30 that morning, I stumbled into the Harmon's grocery store beat red from heat and soaked with sweat as though I had just gotten out of the shower again. My hair dripped the salty fluid in my eyes and it stung. I never faltered.
"Excuse me," I got the attention of the closest cashier. "Where's the flower department?"
"The florist is over there," she said, pointing off to the right. I smiled, thanked her, and walked to the florist.
I saw a gorgeous bouquet of roses in a crystal vase I ached to buy for my Grandmother. Growing up I was never around my grandparents much. It was the first time I was around any of them for their birthday and I was determined to get something she would remember. I looked at the price tag and gulped. The flowers were more than twice what I could afford.
I kept browsing. I looked and looked, trying to find just the right flowers to get for her. Finally I saw them. It was a lovely bouquet made to order. It matched the flowers on the nightgown she had worn the previous night while brushing her teeth. I had seen the hem of it poking out from under her house coat. The price tag was just a little under the $30 limit I had set for myself, and with luck the taxes wouldn't bring it to more than what I had.
I brought the lovely flowers up to the counter and set them down gingerly. I'd never bought flowers before. The water from the stems dripped all over the rolling grocery lane and I snatched them back up again. I felt bad for getting the water on the lane, but more than anything I didn't want that conveyor belt to eat my lovely flowers!
"It's $31.28 please," the cashier said to me. My face fell. The taxes were just too much.
"Ma'am, these are for my Grandmother. It's her birthday today. Can we take a couple of these purple ones out so it doesn't cost more than $30?" I really had no concept of how it worked when buying flowers.
"Why Honey, if that was one of my grandkids doing something like that for me, I'd want every single one of those lovely flowers. How far did you have to walk?" Her tone softened and she looked at my sweat drenched face and shirt.
"Only about 3 miles, it wasn't bad."
"Then why are you sweating so much?"
"Ritter Drive was the hard part. It will be much easier going back home. I have to hurry though. We're taking her to lunch later." My stomach growled at the thought of food. I hadn't taken the time to eat breakfast. I was in too much of a hurry. "Is there any way I can only buy $30 worth of flowers? I don't have any more money than that." I pulled my three ten dollar bills from my pocket and held them out.
"Ritter Drive?" The cashier asked, ignoring my question for the second time. I understood then that it was the bunch I was purchasing, and that removing just one or two flowers wouldn't make a difference to the price at all.
"Here you are, Honey." The woman behind me in line held out two dollars to me. "Now hurry home with all of those lovely flowers so you don't miss out on lunch!"
"Oh, thank you!" I nearly hugged the stranger. Normally I wouldn't have taken money from a stranger, but this was an emergency!
I paid for the flowers, gave the woman her change, and turned to walk out of the door. Suddenly I stopped. I walked back to the cashier and the kind woman who had given me the two dollars to finish paying for the flowers and I pulled out the two purple flowers I had offered to remove in the first place. They were both lovely, but I knew where they belonged. I handed one to the cashier and one to the kind stranger.
"My Grandmother likes to share," I said, and I turned to start the long walk home. Moist eyes bid me a pleasant journey.
I walked all the way back home before anyone even realized I wasn't in the neighborhood at all. They thought I had just gone for a walk or had wandered down to Nicki's house. When I walked in with that bouquet, I was greeted once more by bright, glistening, moist eyes. There were four eyes looking at me with tears in them.
"Happy Birthday Grandma," I said. I gave her the lovely flowers and went to take a shower. The sweat poured off of me in a steady stream.
Mom told me some time later on that Grandma didn't really like flowers. At first I was crushed. Then I remembered the look in her face.
"Well Mom, maybe that's because nobody ever gave her any. She liked the ones I gave to her."
"She's just like me, Manda," my mother explained. "We think they're so much prettier when they're outside and growing, not sitting on a table and dying." She paused and watched my face melt a bit. She didn't like flowers. "But it wasn't the flowers that made her cry. It was what you had to do to get them. It was the effort you made on her behalf."
There's a moral here somewhere...
Maybe two if you look hard enough.