Articles by Jim Gainan

As published in the Billings Gazette

Valentine’s Day brings treasured memories from the past

Valentine’s Day brings treasured memories from the past

JIM GAINAN Growing Up | Posted: Sunday, February 14, 2010 12:05 am

Last week I struggled to find a topic.  This week I struggled to find the time.  Fortunately, with a few adjustments I overcame them both.  Today is Valentine’s Day and while I do hope that fresh flowers made or will make their way to your valentine, my intent today is to share a few reflections about what this day means to me. 

February 14, 1980 was the day before my mom would marry “the plant man”.  Back then, I remember being so surprised at guests’ reaction at their reception to their choice of wedding day.  It was just another day in the car business to me. 

You see I came from a world where Valentine’s Day was about home-made frosted cupcakes and other treats at school, a bag full of valentine cards from classmates and a fun night at home feasting on a Banquet “TV Dinner” and terrorizing an unfortunate babysitter while my parents had a date night.

Enter, ‘the plant man’ and his exhausted florist family.  To me, February 15th was a perfectly good day to have a wedding in a church and a reception at the downtown store. That night I was confused as countless guests of the wedding offered their sympathy to Mick, Chuck and Karolyn and the many employees who dared to pull off such a feat the day after Valentine’s Day. I’ve learned the reason why since then.

Today, I fully understand what they all must have gone through to prepare the store for a wedding reception after the tornado called Valentine’s Day leveled the place.  In those days, it wasn’t uncommon for family and employees to only have 2 hours off between shifts on the 12th and 13th.  In the early morning hours of the 14th, if they were lucky, they got to go home and change their clothes before duty called on the 14th. So, to stay the night of the 14th and muster up the energy to arrange wedding flowers for a guy who knew better, his unsuspecting wife and her two children was remarkable.  If I had been Chuck, I would have asked them to consider the Holiday Inn.

Getting to know these ‘Gainan people’ was strangely fun and confusing at the same time.  I remember thinking why are the words ‘Panic Wagon’ written on the doors of the delivery vans? Why does Grandma ‘G’ say that, “We celebrate Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day on the 4th of July”? Why does she say, “Whatever is left in the cooler” when someone asks her what her favorite valentine flower is?  You see, the statements couldn’t be explained.  They had to be experienced, first hand, together in repetition for many years before the humor and truth were revealed.

I learned what the words “Panic Wagon” meant in real time just this summer.  Just after closing time on a Friday, I got a call from our answering service, transferring an M.O.B. (mother-of-the-bride) to me. She asked, “Where are our flowers? The wedding starts in an hour. And, it’s in Huntley!” To which I answered, “They are on their way”. One U-turn and three cell phone calls later, I was back at the store. Our order said the wedding was the next day, which was incorrect.

Thankfully, the flowers were all completely ready.  Kristi, Todd and I loaded the van with hearts racing.  My sister and I safely drove down I-94 reminding ourselves out loud to stay calm because during times of panic, bad things can happen.  We were met by a warm bride who was just so happy to be getting married, she didn’t even care that there had almost been a disaster.  We stayed and watched her walk down the aisle.

As I walked toward the van I fully understood the words “Panic Wagon”.  One of the guys who was in the wedding said, “Heck, you look like you need a drink”, and he handed me one. What great people.

Obviously, Valentine’s Day is very important to me for a couple of reasons. In our business it is literally “make or break” time; it is also the eve of my parent’s wedding anniversary.  Mick always said it was “our anniversary”.  It always seemed so corny and embarrassing to me when he said that.  I remember thinking, “I didn’t marry you.” But, how can you resist the guy who wore moon boots to my school functions many years after they should have been destroyed? Or, who gave my mom a ‘56 Chevy Nomad (2 door station wagon) to drive us to school in when all I really wanted was to ‘fit in’?  I guess you don’t.

This week I had so many thoughts swirling in my head. “Don’t forget this! That! The other.”  You know what I mean.  The brain is supposed to be like an organized filing system.  Mine is like an organized filing system with a really messy desk on top of it. But, occasionally clarity emerges and when it does, I pay attention.

I’ve always been a big fan of euphoric recall.  I never really spent much time thinking about why people, places and things in the past seemed so much better the longer they were gone.  But, then I realized that time is like a polishing cloth for memories. The more time that passes, the prettier they get.  Remembering them is a welcomed relief from the stresses of the present. But the poor people, places and things of the present. How can they live up to such well-edited memories?

A thought came to me this week and I’m pretty certain that I didn’t read it on a card or in a self help book, but, I can’t be sure.  It goes like this: “Don’t waste today waiting for your dreams to come true...they already are.”  The past, with all of its joy and pain is part of a dream that isn’t finished.  I realize now that today that I am smack dab in the middle of a dream that I didn’t plan, or more importantly, couldn’t have planned any better. 

Happy Valentine’s Day.