Holiday shopping requires a certain level of maturity that I just don’t possess. Let’s take Black Friday. I’ve tried it. My sister-in-law had everything all mapped out for us the year we headed out in the early morning to stand in line at the Target store at Merle Hay Mall. All was good for the first hour as we sipped lattes and laughed with the fun-loving crowd. But the tone changed as the sun rose and people realized they had to buy five gazillion gifts before they were allowed to go home. We all got a little serious. So when the crowd surged, I surged with it. Hence, my proud possession of two photo printers that never saw the light of day except to go to Goodwill. I’m just thankful we didn’t start our Black Friday rounds at Toyota.
Then there’s this whole what-to-buy business. I’m always a bit confused. Is the amount I spend on a gift supposed to reflect how much I love someone? Yikes — that’s complicated. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for buying love, but what if you don’t even know what your special someone wants as you embark on the inevitable purchase of a bathrobe from Sears. Or is it a gold box from Josephs Jewelry? See, confused already. Perhaps Scrooge was doing Bob Cratchit a favor by keeping him late at work every night during the holiday season. I mean, once you’ve had a turkey “twice the size of Tiny Tim,” how do you top that?
And let’s not forget the sheer quantity of gifts. You need gifts for your overly-concerned mom, your scolding older sister, your melted-down kids, and your “do you want that promotion” boss. Oh, and the secret Santa gift, you didn’t forget that, did you?
It’s just too much.
So, today only, I’m giving you a gift for which you need to do NOTHING. Flowers from Holland. Just for you. They’re provided by my favorite Dutch florist, Corrine Kooper.
Kooper, 45 years old, has been in the flower business her whole life. Her father used to have an open air stand in the big market downtown in The Hague. Kooper’s old man would hawk flowers above the din of the market, shouting out his wares to all the passerby’s. Shades of an old peddler. Clearly, Kooper comes by the profession honestly.
Her flower shop is found on the colorful street of Frederik Hendriklaan. The shop is narrow and cramped and spills out onto the sidewalk like an upended flower vase.
Three times a week new flowers arrive at the shop. Yup, three times a week. “The Dutch people always have flowers in our houses, always,” Kooper explains. “So, it is necessary to continually have fresh flowers.”
“My father buys the flowers for me. He goes three maybe four times in a week to the flower auction outside of The Hague. My brother, who has his own flower shop, buys the flowers on his computer while he is in his pajamas at home with a cup of coffee. My father says, ‘You are a lazy flower man.’ But it is the future.”
I ask for Kooper’s help in giving you a gift of flowers.
“When you’re going to help a customer then you ask: ‘Can I help you?’ ‘Yes, I’m looking for a bouquet.’ ‘Is it for a lady or for a man?’ If it’s for a lady, then you’re going to say is it an older one, is it a young lady, these are the things we ask. What is it for? Is it for a birthday? Is it for someone sick? All these things you have to know. This is what the customer needs. You must get the conversation. It is so important.”
So what if I want to give flowers to a young lady?
“Romance is for a gift for a young woman. Red is the color of love. Okay, the roses are always for this. We need to put it in a nice paper. We do a card. You have to guide the customer in it. Especially men don’t know the color combination. You learn this in the years.”
And flowers for someone not feeling well?
“Bouquet to cheer them up, orange, yellow, bright flowers. Someone very sick, never do white. Soft pink colors for a lady. Not too bright because at that moment it’s not too bright. The future is not bright for that person. So you have to pick out the softer colors.”
And what about flowers for a couple married for a long time?
“Use white to show the wedding, and a little pink and little red to bring romance back,” Kooper says knowingly.
Kooper herself was twice disappointed in love. “I’m very strong in the shop. In a relationship, I’m very insecure. I always pick the wrong man. I do everything for the other one, and I expect it back. It has not worked. And that’s why you build a wall very high to protect yourself. . . . If someone is coming with a big hammer to open up that wall, we’ll see.”
Today, however, Kooper worries about other problems. She is a single mom taking care of her own teenage daughter. Her daughter’s first hockey game is in an hour. She wants to be there. She also realizes her father is getting older. “My dad is not having the life forever. I have to learn the flower auction.” And what will happen to her shop? Maybe her daughter will continue in her footsteps? “Maybe,” Kooper says doubtfully. And on top of it all, she is worried about the economy and anxiously hopes Christmas sales can give her shop a boost.
Kooper takes a deep breath and glances out of her shop at the flowing passersby on the sidewalk.
There is a big tree in the heart of Kooper’s street. A couple of weeks ago, a violent storm blowing out of the North Sea ripped it clean from its roots. The large upturned trunk and the tomblike dirt hole are all that remain from the triage performed by the City crews. But, if you look closely next to the dirt hole and trunk, you will see bouquets of flowers. Those flowers appeared the day after the storm. For the tree, it seems.
Apparently, we all need flowers this time of year.
So, Corrine, we’d like a bouquet. Your choice. And make one for yourself while you’re at it.