Around the time I was preparing my brooder house articles, my son Tim posted a photo on Facebook of his friend dead-heading her flowers. He wrote, “A piece of galvanized junk full of beautiful flowers may not mean anything to you — but it means everything to me. My Uncle Jerry Thomas built planters from random stuff in which he could envision something more beautiful. His green thumbs touched this piece in 2008 — and, now, twelve years later, his efforts blossom into the otherwise ugliest year in recent memory.”
When I saw the planter, I thought it resembled a chicken feeder used years ago. To confirm my thinking, I typed in “vintage chicken feeder image, on the Internet.” Up popped numerous photos, with more than one looking like the flowerpot in Tim’s photo. I wish I could ask Jerry where he came up with it. Like Tim said, Jerry built planters from random stuff; the more unusual, the better. And he certainly had two green thumbs.
Our mother also had a couple of green thumbs. She could grow anything. Mom had flower beds all across the front of the house. She used the old, dried-up cow manure that was shoveled to the southwest of the milk parlor, and that rich, black soil made everything grow abundantly. Her multicolored coleus, mixed in with other plants, were beautiful.
I believe God gives each of us gifts. Jerry’s was an ability to transform a bunch of live or artificial flowers into lovely arrangements. Even when he was young, he picked what might be considered weeds, and placed them artistically in a vase.
When I was a little girl, it was not unusual for Jerry to cut off a branch of spirea blooms and make them into a tiara. I truly enjoyed being a princess. If we were going to have company, or if it was a holiday, Jerry fixed a pretty bouquet for the center of the dining table.
In an interview published years ago in the Buffalo Reflex, Steve Johnson said Jerry recalls, “Higginbotham’s was considered one of the top florists of the area at that time. Mary Ellen Higginbotham thought I had great designing potential. She got me listed with FTD and I taught design classes. One of the biggest shows I remember doing was in Illinois. There were over five hundred designers who raved on and on about our work.”
Jerry had found his niche, Steve wrote. But after 11 months at Higginbotham’s, he had climbed as far to the top as he could go, so in 1967, he purchased the old Odd Fellows building in Fair Grove and opened his own florist shop.
I went with Jerry to one of those classes, held in Springfield. It was in a large warehouse-type building, with chairs set up in front of a large preparation table. The floral arrangements made that day were beautiful. At the end of the demonstration, the different arrangements were for sale.
Although I was not trained in any way, I did help Jerry a few times. If he had a large wedding, I was called upon to get the corsages and boutonnieres ready. They were fairly easy. I was also asked to attend weddings where Jerry did the flowers and Mom catered the reception. It was often my job to pin the flowers on the attendants. You wouldn’t believe how many people attempted to pin a corsage or boutonniere on upside down. That just drove Jerry crazy. Flowers do not grow stem end up.
The experience I gained while helping Jerry, allowed me survive my one and only job doing wedding flowers. Tim’s friends were getting married on Feb. 29. Tim volunteered me to do the bouquets, corsages, boutonnieres and the flowers the bride carried. I told Tim I didn’t feel qualified to do such a large project, but he kept assuring me I could do it.
On the afternoon prior to the wedding, I arrived at the in-law’s house. Tim showed up shortly thereafter. Of course, I knew the bride and groom, but I hadn’t met the in-laws. Introductions were made, and I was shown the roses and other flowers.
Let me tell you, I did some tall praying before I arrived that day. I talked to the Good Lord and said, “Dear Heavenly Father, you know, on my own, I cannot do this. You’re gonna have to help me, in Jesus name I pray, Amen.”
Before the first flower was placed anywhere, Tim said he had to leave. He had to go to work. “I’ll be back to help you,” he promised. No, he did not return, and he was too big to whip.
The bouquet the bride wanted to carry was made using a variety of long-stemmed flowers. I laid them across my arm, arranged them perfectly, wired them into place and topped the wired area with a beautiful bow, with streamers hanging down. The large vases full of roses turned out almost as good as Jerry would have done, then everything was placed in a cool, closed-off room.
Yes, I survived, and I do have to say, God and I did lovely work. I’m so glad Jerry’s chicken feeder planter made so many memories come to the surface.