We lost a wonderful member of our poker group to cancer in May.
Ray was a man who rode jacks to ruin on more than one occasion. He had this crafty smile that crossed his cheeks whenever he was trying to figure out whether you were bluffing. He grilled a wicked Polish sausage and traded naughty barbs about his own Polish sausage, that resulted in a good laugh and a little blushing.
Old men are allowed do that, especially around the card table.
So when I learned of his passing, I called some of the players and proposed an idea that I’d seen on The Wire.
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My vision for the funeral arrangement was a giant poker chip or maybe a playing card – an Ace of Hearts, to show how much we’d miss his smiling face at the felt. My fellow players were all-in for the idea so I started making calls to find the right florist to execute our vision.
Unlike a TV series based on the very gritty world of the drug-riddled Baltimore projects, Scottsdale floral studios don’t have many design solutions that include memorable memorial arrangements for poker-playing homies.
The Scottsdale artistes would ask me to hold and then come back five minutes later with a quote in the $500 (!?!) ballpark. Even then, I wasn’t sure if they really understood (or agreed with) what I was proposing. Perhaps they thought I was a big-time Baltimore gangster or a high-rolling degenerate gambler?
There are many benefits to living in Scottsdale, but affordable ghetto floral design is not among them.
So I called my Mom – the badass florist from Louisiana. I asked her if the quotes I was getting were reasonable, or if perhaps I should venture to South Phoenix to find a (floral) Wire florist.
“I don’t think you should. You can do this yourself.”
“I dunno, Mom, this thing is going to be pretty involved.”
“No it’s not. You can do it, and it’ll cost you half as much. I’ll help you.”
Mom put in calls to local suppliers, ordering pre-made forms to help me out with the structure. With the forms in hand, I asked her how many flowers I’d need.
“Well, do you have a beer bottle handy?”
I love my Mom. Apparently the bottom of a beer bottle is a standard fill-in for a full-sized carnation. I wonder if the Scottsdale artistes use that handy little tidbit for their measurements. I bet they do in Baltimore.
“So I’ll go ahead and order 100 white carnations for the card and 25 red ones for the heart, and two bunches of red mini-carns for the mini-hearts.”
“I think I’d rather use red roses for the big heart.”
“OK…” A dramatic pause. “If that’s what you want to do, I’ll order roses.”
Picking up the floral order on Friday morning, I panicked: Though the flowers filled two Home Depot buckets, I started thinking about my all-thumbs tendency to drop and break things. I bought two additional bunches of regular red carnations, plus all the mini-white carnations in stock and a bunch of white pompons… JUST IN CASE. (My wholesale hook-up didn’t have any more regular white carnations).
“Now Pat is going to need to help you assemble all of this and wire the different pieces together. Make sure he helps you.”
“I will, Mom.”
“I really think you should just glue the carnations to a foam-core backing instead of using Oasis (water-absorbent floral sponge) for the background.”
“Well, I’m hearing you on that, Mom, but I worry that it might dry out, and I don’t know if we’ll be outside or indoors. We’ve had 2 percent humidity here this week.”
“OK…” A dramatic pause. “That Oasis can get pretty heavy. Be sure Pat helps you.”
Loading all of the materials onto a folding table in the kitchen, I started assembling the two square wreaths into one. Pat drifted in to refresh his drink, and observing for a moment, asked: “Why are you doing it that way?”
I put down the forms and puzzled at the structures, then looked back at him.
“Mom said you were supposed to help me.”
And with that, we started our six-hour odyssey of funeral arrangement assembly. Pat put together a handy time-lapse so you can see our progress and results. (Yes, I was wearing my blue polka-dot pajamas – what else are you supposed to wear?)
At the end of the day, I learned a few things:
1) My Mom is a badass florist. She told me exactly how this was gonna go down and it absolutely did (although I was glad I ordered the extra white carnations because Phoenix carnations aren’t as big as Louisiana “beer-bottle-bottom” carnations – and we used every last one of them).
2) Listen to Your Mother, Part I: Your Mom, the badass florist, knows more than you, the black-thumbed weekend scrapbooker. About those roses… Come to find out, roses are a bitch to arrange. Carnations are so much easier. I re-did the center heart three (3!?!) times and ended up using the big red carnations to outline the heart.
3) Listen to Your Mother, Part II: About that Oasis... it weighs next-to-nothing dry… AND 37 POUNDS WET. I’m serious. The final product weighed 37 pounds. It took two people to carry it, and Pat had to safety-wire our funeral-wreath easel to another table-top easel to ensure the whole 37-pound thing didn’t fall over like a flat-screen TV toppling on a toddler.
I am so grateful to my Mom for her guidance and help on this project because Ray’s family and my poker-playing buddies really liked the arrangement. We thought it was something that would have brought that warm smile to Ray’s face. Plus, it was better than anything the Scottsdale snobs could have put together and it cost half as much to do.
So consider this a lesson learned: At the end of the day, Stacy’s Mom Has Got It Going On.