I believe the first Thanksgiving I spent with Shirley was during my first year of college in 1994. She lived 3 short hours away from school and offered me an excuse to not go back to southwest Kansas for the long weekend.
We had a half a day of classes on the Wednesday so I dropped an overnight bag in my little Tercel and zipped up the road in the early afternoon. The trip was easy, and the scenery was beautiful. I’d never driven to Arkansas before and I was amazed at the change in topography from Oklahoma. The trees were past their peak for color, but the ‘mountains’ were still lovely.
I met Shirley that afternoon at the flower shop where she was working. She’d been a master florist for nearly twenty years, and yet I’d never seen any of her work. House of Flowers was perched on the corner of two main roads in the heart of downtown Springdale, making it very easy for me to find.
The doorbell tinkled pleasantly as I entered the beautiful little store that was decorated floor to ceiling with magnificent Christmas trees, twinkling lights, floral arrangements filled with holly berries and roses, and massive displays of potpourri and scented oils. The moment I stepped inside I was bewitched by the cozy nooks and quaint little display areas. The heady smells emanating from every corner of the shop intoxicated me – drawing me further into the charming little store.
I fell in love that day…with the flower shop. As the weekend progressed, we talked about Shirley’s dream of owning her own shop. Her enthusiasm was tangible as we talked about the possibility of her purchasing this shop from her long time friend and owner, Shirley Jones, who was anxious to retire. We imagined turning the business into a family run shop – she and I, and both of my brothers – if they were interested. I didn’t know anything about flowers, except that I loved everything about that little store; and I longed to spend my days showcasing beautiful floral arrangements in whimsical displays. I truly felt like a kid in a candy store.
My long weekend flew by, and before I knew it I was once again tossing my overnight bag into the backseat of my little car and making my way back to school. The drive back was not nearly as exciting as the drive had been a few days before, although the scenery was equally as lovely. The day was sunny but my mood was gray. I didn’t want to be in college and I knew it. But I couldn’t disappoint my parents by dropping out. I was resigned to my fate, and I resented every part of it.
As I pulled into a free parking space in front of my dorm, I watched a young couple making their way hand-in-hand to the pond. Their smiles radiated young love. I was jealous. Not of their love, but of their happiness. I pulled my bag out of the back seat of the car and headed for the dorm; my footsteps crunching loudly over the leaf covered walkway – echoing the hollow feeling I had in my heart.