Good deeds that start small are no less beautiful than the thought behind them, and sometimes their outreach can stretch the full width of a state.
Even Tennessee ... and this is a pretty wide state.
Let me explain. OK, OK ... please.
On Valentine’s Day two weeks ago shortly after 8 a.m. — a Friday, by my calendar — the office telephone rang. Not a good sign. It was too early in the morning and I had not yet evaluated how many people the previous day’s edition of the newspaper might, or might not, have offended.
With someone calling so early, it was obviously an omen of bad tidings ... perhaps dozens of bad tidings, maybe even hundreds.
In newspaper work, nice things are rarely said at 8 a.m. It’s a dreaded fact of life, one that rivals the urgency of an empty barrel of ink or a spilled cup of Columbian coffee.
Feeling my shoulders droop and a sigh escape from caffeine-tainted lips, I reached for the phone and prepared for the day’s first rebuke.
My spirits lifted immediately. It was the voice of Mark Grissom, the co-host of “Mark in the Morning,” a popular talk show over at WOOP radio. In observance of Valentine’s Day, the station was giving away a dozen red roses.
Those who talked on the air that morning were eligible for the drawing. That included me, but I never planned to win. Newspaper editors don’t win things. Newspaper editors just drink coffee and get headaches ... and nasty letters and unkind emails and unpleasant visits. Good thing we love our job.
“Rick, you’ve won a dozen red roses!” Mark screamed into the phone. “And you did it fair and square!”
For the second time in three months, I was speechless.
I’m not sure what I said in response. It might have been “wow.” It might have been, “Sir, I think you’ve got the wrong number.”
But it was real. All I had to do was drop in on Jimmie’s Flowers and collect my prize.
After completing some page design that morning but before the arrival of proof sheets, I sailed out of the newspaper office and headed for the flower shop. They were nice as always and congratulated me on the dozen beauties which I received in a vase ... pronounced VAAZ by the elite and proper.
Still on deadline back in the newsroom but eager to get these traveling roses to their destination — my wife — I steered down Ocoee Street and headed for the downtown Bank of Cleveland where she works as a front-line teller.
To my convenience (fate is sometimes a gracious lady), she had no customers in line at the time. She was pouring over some paperwork so her head was bowed.
Boldly, I stepped to her window and slid the glass vase ... er, VAAZ ... and red roses across the counter.
“Excuse me, ma’am, I’d like to open a Luuuvvvv Account,” I whispered in the most romantic tone I could muster without sacrificing my professional air. I was still in necktie and dress pants.
Looking up, her smile stretched ear to ear ... and perhaps beyond. Unaccustomed to such gifts on Valentine’s Day (I prefer more unconventional surprises), she asked in suspicion, “What have you done?”
“My love,” I smoozed, “I would ask you to marry me all over again, but after enduring my ... ways ... for almost 37 years I fear this time you would say ‘no.’”
Her co-workers swooned and I scored a personal victory of unimagined parallel.
Had I been quicker of wit, I would have added, “These gorgeous roses were won in a radio drawing; so naturally, I cancelled my original order. The savings will be used toward tonight’s Lovefest at the fine-dining establishment of your choice.”
As her laugh stirred the smiles of those around her, and customers in neighboring lines pretended not to stare, I bid my quick adieu due to the fast approach of rolling presses, but not before repeating my vow of eternal love.
She brought the traveling roses home that evening. They greeted me from the kitchen table as I stepped into the door.
“Brainstorm!” my beloved bellowed. “We’re taking them to Mom!”
On Saturday morning, we were scheduled to head over to West Tennessee to spend a three-day weekend with her elderly parents who were still kicking, but doing it very slowly.
I couldn’t fault her plan. No need for the dozen red beauties to sit in an empty house when they could brighten the spirits of our loved ones on the state’s far end. She had even delicately packed them into a cardboard box so the VAAAZ wouldn’t tip over during the 5 1/2-hour voyage.
By mid-morning Saturday, we were hauling our luggage into their modest home, as well as several bags of groceries, a couple of winter coats and my work shoes for the inevitable afternoon in the yard doing some winter cleanup. The VAAAZ came last.
My sweet mother-in-law, now in her mid-70s and who has struggled with macular degenerative disorder for years, nonetheless could see the gorgeous red blooms in all their spendor.
“What are these?” she asked.
“For you,” I answered. “They’re a gift from a Cleveland radio station back home. They’re called WOOP, and they wanted these roses in the hands of someone who has given her love to others for a lifetime. After four kids, a league of grandkids and more great-grandkids than a forest has trees, we figured you’re just the one.”
She almost cried.
They may have been the first roses in her small house in years.
Moving a plastic figurine from the kitchen table’s center, she replaced it with the traveling roses of East Tennessee.
There these flowers of crimson delight remained all weekend. Dozens of relatives came in and out of that house over the next three days.
The words I heard most often were, “They’re beautiful! Where’d they come from?”
And each time the question was asked came this excited answer from my beloved mother-in-law Shirley Swindell, “They came from a radio station in Cleveland!”
We departed the tiny hamlet of Greenfield that Monday morning.
But the roses remained in the center of that little kitchen table.
And their memory will last a lifetime.
No good deed is too small. No reach is too shallow. And no distance is too great, even when it spans the width of a state like Tennessee.
From Cleveland radio to a distant mom, love can travel any distance. And you don’t have to see the world through rose-colored glasses to know it.