31: A Shaky Beginning

31: A Shaky Beginning

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Volunteering & Giving Back

A Shaky Beginning

Plant flowers in others’ gardens and your life becomes a bouquet!

~Author Unknown

To this day I can recall my dry throat as I put a hesitant hand on the door handle of that plant nursery. Gosh, how I hated asking for things, but flowers and greenery for the senior housing patio area were desperately needed. I had volunteered, given the seniors my word and made it my mission, so I was determined to overcome my shyness and ask for a donation of plants. The little plot of land where the residents gathered to chat and get some sun was just hard-packed dirt. Red geraniums and cheery yellow mums would brighten the garden, but there was no money in the budget for little extras like that. My grandmother had lived there until she had passed away the prior year, and now my aunt resided in the front building. I often dropped by to visit with her and some of Gram’s friends. That’s how I had become aware of the pathetic patch of dirt that should have been a flowerbed.

I was in my twenties and struggling, and my salary at the travel agency didn’t go very far. The reality was they mostly paid me in travel. I promised my aunt and the other ladies that I’d get some flowers donated to them, but I was terrible at that kind of thing. The night before I planned to visit the nursery, I hardly slept.

I remember how the handle of the door grew warm under my hand as I stood gathering the courage to open it. I don’t actually know how long I was out there, but I know I was frozen in place for a while. Finally another customer came behind me and I had no choice. A pleasant little bell rang as we stepped inside the cheerful greenhouse. We were greeted by the earthy smell of soil and green growing things mixed with the sweet aroma of gardenias that were shelved by the entryway. There were wind chimes gently swaying among the hanging plants, and rows of painted pots and plant stands. With such a large garden out back, surely they could spare a few plants. I was even willing to take the scraggly ones and nurse them back to health. The warm air in the room made me a bit dizzy. I fanned my face as I looked around.

“Can I help you?”

I turned to see a tall good-looking man wearing a gardening apron. He had a dirt smudge on his cheek and a trowel in his hand.

“Yes,” I stammered. “I’m looking for the owner, Rita Stanley.”

“I’m Rita’s son, Mitch.” He held out his hand but quickly drew it back when he realized he was wearing gardening gloves.

I wasn’t ready to deal with a handsome man. Or any man. I thought I would be talking to, or rather pleading with, an older woman. That was the only thing that made my feet move through the door. The back of my neck began to feel clammy and I knew my face was flushed.

“I’ll come back when she’s here,” I said, inching backwards, gauging how far the door was from where we were standing.

He studied me as I hopped from foot to foot and finally said, “If you’re looking for work, I’m afraid we’re not hiring.”

“Oh, no, I’m not looking to work here.” It must have been the way I said it because he looked a bit taken aback. Maybe I had insulted him. I don’t know, but after a lot of stammering on my part and an awkward gesture toward the rows of blooms I said, “But if I were, this would be a wonderful place to work. I was… I just…” I looked up at him and was chagrined to see that he seemed amused. He had a grin on his face as he leaned against the counter, arms crossed, waiting me out.

Words came out of my mouth, gunshot fast, before I could stop them. “Look, my grandma lives in the senior housing property.” No, that was wrong. I backtracked. “I mean she used to, she doesn’t anymore, but my aunt does. And I was thinking… you know, the weather is really nice out and…”

“Yes, that’s true,” he said.

“And the seniors like to sit outdoors on a nice day.”

“Also true.” He had shiny dark hair that hung over his forehead. I tried not to stare. I looked up at the ceiling so I wouldn’t lose my nerve. Why was this so hard for me?

“And there is this little plot of land there that’s bare.”

He nodded. “I see.”

“A few flowers would really brighten it up so I thought I would…”

He held up his hand. “I get it. You want to fix it up with some plants and flowers.”

I sagged with relief. “Yes.”

“Well, come out back.” He indicated a set of glass doors with his gloved hand. “We have a lot of annuals on sale.”

At those words my heart sank. All that and it wasn’t the thing I had come for. “Oh, thank you, but I was hoping to, you know, get some flowers… donated.” That last word was barely audible but I got it out. A few beats passed as I stared down at the floor. When I finally looked up he was grinning at me. “I can tell you don’t solicit flowers for a living.”

“Well, that’s pretty obvious, don’t you think?”

His smile got wider as I confessed, “I just hate asking for things, I’m terrible at it.” I tucked a strand of hair behind my ear and hoped he didn’t see the tremble in my hand.

“You’re not so terrible. I think you’re sweet. We’d be happy to put some flowers in the senior garden.”

“You would?” I had done it! I almost did a little happy jig, but caught myself in time. “Thank you so much,” I managed to croak out.

“Come on, I’ll help you pick out some low maintenance ones.”

I started to follow him but he stopped abruptly in the middle of the garden door. “But there’s a condition.”

Uh oh, I thought. Now what?

“After I deliver these flowers, you have to let me help you plant them, and then go for coffee with me.”

I smiled and began to relax for the first time since I came into the nursery. Now that was something I wouldn’t be terrible at!

After that I managed to get donations for the senior center for Christmas that year. That started me on a life of volunteering. I’m now an officer in the local chapter of the Lions Clubs International. Once you experience the pleasure of helping others your life becomes richer, your heart becomes lighter, and you find hope in the goodness of the world.

~Jody E. Lebel

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