Chrysanthemums For Sale

Autumn, with its colorful array of warm foliage, always reminds me of my dad, who was a remarkable gardener.
When my brother and I were in grammar school we lived in a white stucco Tudor style home trimmed with brown wood, situated on a large corner lot in Manhattan Beach, California. There was also a large empty lot adjacent to the house and my parents owned that, too. It was early 1940s, during World War II and dad worked in the Post Office. He was also a volunteer fireman and air raid warden. Mom worked swing shift in a defense plant in El Segundo. I can still picture her going to work looking like Rosie the Riveter, in slacks with her hair tied up in a red and white bandana.
Each evening after work, dad spent hours planting a Victory Garden in the empty lot, nurturing and cultivating the plants so that eventually a marvelous assortment of vegetables and flowers bloomed there. It was long before home vegetable gardening became so popular.
Because of the war, canned vegetables were rationed, which is why families in the United States, often referred to as The Home Front, planted Victory Gardens. These wartime gardens were intended to help prevent food shortages. Their produce also helped stretch ration coupons, which defined the amount of certain foods people were allowed to buy at the store.
According to National World War II Museum statistics, at their peak there were more than 20,000,000 Victory Gardens planted across the United States, and more than a million tons of produce were grown during the war.
I can still remember going out to the garden in the summertime, pulling up small baby carrots, dusting off the dirt and eating them then and there. I also loved pulling green beans off the vine and tasting their crunchy earth-flavored sweetness. I also remember the grotesque brown potato bugs and the repulsive green tomato worms that my brother and I, at my fathers orders, helped pull off the plants.
But what I remember most is that throughout October, part of the lot bloomed with chrysanthemums in all their dazzling fall colors: Orange, white, yellow, bronze, amber and brown. This was the signal to my dad that it was time for my brother and I to earn our Christmas present money.
Dad would make up bunches of a dozen long-stemmed chrysanthemums, wrap them in newspaper, pack them into a little red wagon and send us out into the world to sell them––for seventy-five cents a bunch. Our sales territory covered about a two-mile radius. In those days, personal safety wasn’t much of an issue.
I was always slightly embarrassed to be peddling flowers from door-to-door. I envisioned myself as very similar to The Little Match Girl. But our customers loved them and we were rarely, if ever, turned down without a sale. By the time the chrysanthemum season was over we had walked miles, up one street and down another selling flowers, until all the blooms were gone and we had enough money to buy presents for the whole family.
Recently, I bought a basket of chrysanthemums and when I put them on the front porch I thought of those “good old days.” I recalled how hard dad worked in his garden, growing food for us to eat and flowers for us to sell so that we would have a little spending money. I don’t think I ever appreciated him, or them, as much as I do now.


2 thoughts on “Chrysanthemums For Sale

  1. Oh Carol, what a nostalgia walk you invited me to take. Although I was not alive during the Second World War, I do clearly remember the simplicity of life when I was a young child in the 50’s. We, too, had a large summer garden to help balance our food needs while on a limited budget. We worked that garden as a family. I hadn’t thought about it for a very long time. Thanks for the invite to reminisce such wonderful, warm memories.

    Pat Rogers

  2. What a great story. Times were so much simpler then. Wish we could get back to those patriotic values and family times.

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