Huellas …entre flores

articles Living, Working, Retiring

Dale Hoyt Palfrey

Most mothers in Mexico look forward to May 10 as a day to take it easy and be pampered by family. For Esperanza Perez, proprietress of Ajijic’s most popular flower shop, the date means not only business as usual, but extra work and longer hours.

With a loyal clientele that includes many of the town’s top restaurateurs and its foreign residents, Esperanza enjoys a steady business every day of the year, but sales soar on Mother’s Day, keeping her on her feet from dawn until well after dark.

“It’s the busiest day of the year. My sales are triple those of a normal day,” she told me recently, noting she must plan extra trips to Guadalajara in advance to stock up on supplies.

“All the years my children were in school I was never able to attend their Mother’s Day festivals. I barely get a chance to stop to eat. Ni modo,” she says with a wry chuckle and a resigned shrug of her shoulders.

As an occasional customer I had always found Esperanza to be friendly and cheerful, but we developed a special rapport after a friend commissioned me to create an unusual wedding cake. The request called for several cakes, each to be covered with frosting in a basket-weave design and decorated with fresh blossoms. When I went to Esperanza to order the flowers, I was not surprised to learn she had been hired to provide all the floral arrangements for the same bridal couple, including a huge archway beneath which they were to exchange vows.

The date of the wedding happened to coincide with festivities in honor of Ajijic’s patron saint, an especially busy time for Esperanza. As my experience as a cake baker was primarily limited to concoctions for my children’s birthdays, I was rather jittery about my assigned task. Though somewhat frazzled by her own commitments, Esperanza not only patiently guided me on my selections and fashioned the tiny bouquets I needed, but also took the time to provide vital encouragement that helped calm my nerves.

Thanks to Esperanza’s expertise and wise counsel, our coordinated efforts were stunning, creating a sensation among the wedding guests that pleased the bride and groom no end. The good-natured florist has been an deeply admired friend ever since.

The landmark for finding Esperanza’s tiny shop on Calle Zaragoza are tall plastic buckets of rainbow-hued gladiolas set out on the sidewalk Stepping down into the cool, dim interior, redolent with the fragrance of fresh blossoms and greenery, customers find a small selection of floral arrangements just inside the doorway, ready to go and priced as low as 15 pesos–under $1.50 usd.

A little farther on, one long wall is lined with bins of fresh produce, where recently I happened upon the best strawberries of the season, each one perfectly red and bursting with sweet juice. The opposite wall holds shelves stocked with assorted grocery items. The sale of this merchandise assures the family a steady income to counteract the vagaries of the florist’s trade.

It is only a couple of paces to the back corner of the shop where Esperanza reigns over a bank of buckets and tubs brimming with bright blossoms. Getting there requires careful navigation between a wary cocker spaniel and a couple of slothful cats curled up helter-skelter as they nap.

Esperanza offers an excellent variety of flowers year round and in a matter of minutes she’ll put together a handsome made-to-order arrangement or tie up one’s choice of blooms into a colorful bouquet. The prices are so astonishingly low, especially by north-of-the-border standards, that she has earned a regular clientele of ” gringo” customers, enticed by the happy discovery that they can afford the luxury of keeping their homes constantly adorned with fresh blooms.

Gladiolas, carnations and roses, her biggest sellers, come in many colors and may be purchased individually or by the dozen. There are stately calla lilies, fragrant tuberoses and dainty baby’s breath, star lilies, chrysanthemums, asters and more. Gardenias, orchids and others quick wilting flowers are always available by special order. Selections may vary through the changing seasons, but a host of options is available. I keep in mind, however, those special dates that draw extra customers and Esperanza’s stock tends to dwindle early in the day.

Giant marigolds called cempazúchil–pungent, in brilliant shades of gold–and the deep crimson baras de obipso (cockscomb) will be in great demand around the first of November. These are the popular choices for decorating graves and altars in remembrance of departed loved ones in celebration of Día de los Muertos. Esperanza’s business also booms during Ajijic’s Fiestas de San Andrés at the end of November, when local guilds in charge of each day’s festivities call upon her to create fresh floral arrangements for the village church.

And then there is Mother’s Day, an unofficial holiday that for most Mexican families is the most important festivity of the year. It is an occasion for offspring to break the rhythm of everyday life, each one finding some way to express gratitude to el autor de mis días–“the author of my days.” Some may hire a mariachi band to arouse Mamá from slumber with a pre-dawn serenade. Most will shower her with gifts. But all deem there is no greater token of appreciation for a woman’s selfless dedication to her children than a bright bouquet of flowers, emblem of nature’s beauty and reflection of a loving heart.

For Esperanza, who will spend May 10 dispensing flowers, her now-grown daughters faithfully working at her side, this heartfelt salute: ¡Feliz Dia de las Madres !

Published or Updated on: August 29, 2007 by Dale Hoyt Palfrey © 2008
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