By Jim Caufield
Flowers are funny things. Unlike most of the goods we buy, flowers are not built to last. They only live a short while, and that seems to be a big part of their charm, if they have any charm.
Flowers are also perfectly useless. They are not a means to any end, as the philosophers say, but are an end in themselves. Their purpose begins and ends in themselves.
Some might say flowers can sometimes serve as a means to an end—say, my girlfriend kissed me because I brought her flowers, or my wife forgave me because I brought her flowers—but in general they are beautiful, and that is all.
They are also highly symbolic. There is even a language of flowers, which Wikipedia tells me is thousands of years old, once flourished all over the world and was especially popular in England and the US in the 1800s.
But it is not a language much in fashion today. You might still find some people who know red roses mean love and yellow roses mean friendship, but otherwise it is more or less a dead language.
So what do flowers symbolize? In part, their short lives remind us of our own short lives, our own brief passage through nature to eternity. That is probably why they have a traditional place at weddings and funerals, unless they were originally introduced to mask unpleasant odors.
Flowers are also a standing challenge to our dearest, most closely held values of efficiency and profitability, those giants Gog and Magog guarding our modern temple of rational self-interest.
Flowers seem to say that beauty is a value, not necessarily a higher or a greater value but certainly a rival value to our lust for gain and our rage for order. Profits and losses make us merely economical animals. Flowers make us fully human beings.
That is why I find the news Parker’s Flowers is closing its doors after more than 60 years in downtown Perry melancholy.
It reminds me what I call human values have been steadily losing ground recently—over, say, the last 50 years—in their rivalry with what I call animal values. Gog and Magog are better dug in all the time and are apt to see flowers only as a market, a potential profit center.
What will now replace Parker’s Flowers? Banking, insurance or real estate? Can downtown Perry support any more financial services or legal services or personal services?
Please do not misunderstand me. Some of my best friends are accountants and underwriters and attorneys. They are eminently respectable and honorable women and men. But humans need beauty as well as truth and justice—and gain. And the loss of Parker’s is a blow to beauty in Perry.
Not a fatal blow. We can take comfort in knowing another florist survives and beauty comes in many forms. We can even find nostalgic pleasure in reflecting that all things have their period, all that comes to be must eventually pass away and small businesses have their life spans like everything else.
We can always say with the poet, "Another race hath been, and other palms are won."
The fourth annual Art on the Prairie show next week will bring beauty to Perry in many forms and varieties, and that is a reason to celebrate. This week, however, beauty fades, and that is a reason to rue.