“You wouldn’t think I was 70, would you? My, it’s hot in here! This here is the first hot house I’se ever in. D’you
have sprouts to sell? I love flaw’rs and my little boys, they love flaw’rs better’n anybody. How much is this one?” I had been slowly following my new
customer down the narrow space between the benches in our small almost-new greenhouse. It was a warm day and under the glass it was very warm. She gave her long black hair a
toss and with a leer, repeated “You wouldn’t think from looking at me that I was 70, but I am! Have you got any sprouts for 10 cents?” She shook a handful of
change and said “I shocked wheat for my money and I guess I can buy flaw’rs if I want to.” I sold her two or three small geraniums and gave her a handful of
“sprouts” and she promised she’d never buy any where else. As hers was a cash purchase, I didn’t ask her name and didn’t expect her to come again,
but in our town every customer in any store is cordially invited to “Come back”. And come back she did, every time she had 35 cents. Something was wrong with the
plants I “sold” her, for every time she came I heard the same story. “You know that cactus I got last time, well, you know that cactus died! I loved that
cactus and Johnny he cried all day but it just died. I see you don’t have any more just like it but this here’s a right pretty one. Johnny, he loves cactus
better’n anybody.” So, you know what happened. I’d tell myself what a fraud she was and then I’d look at her stringy black hair and snaggled black teeth
and her clothes that someone had thrown away, and I’d hope a cactus could compensate.
One day, the next summer, she came after some larger “sprouts.” She and her husband and boys had moved into one of a miserable row of
shacks where the yards were ponds when it rained. She announced that they had moved there so she’d be closer to the greenhouse, and that she had the best landlord in town
because he said for her to set out anything she wanted in her yard. And she wanted anything I’d give her. “But I want you to know I’m not asking for myself but
my black-eyed baby is the one that wants the sprouts. My black-eyed baby loves flaw’rs better’n anybody.” I looked at the two dirty and ragged little boys who
were standing watching and, more than a little impatient, I said “But neither of these boys have black eyes.” She turned around in surprise and, without taking a
long breath, said “What do you know? I must of brung the wrong one. I’ve got so many, I thought I had the black eyed one. D’you think you could dig up this
sprout for me?” This last “sprout” was a 6 foot poplar sprout growing on an old root and the day was warm and the root tough but we dug it up and I hoped the
wonderful landlord would trip over it.
She came one cold day, with two babies, one zipped up in a “Bunny” thing and, somewhat startled, I asked her where she got them. With
a little coaxing I got the story. Her stepdaughter in a distant city couldn’t take care of them and work, but she’d come after them as soon as her man got out of the
As the years passed, the family moved from bad to worse, the boys grew from ragged little boys to ragged big boys, but sometimes they had an old
car and if they had to leave the motor running because they had no battery, the boys would try to hurry Ma up but the more they urged, the more Ma looked and smelled and
hesitated between lemon scented geraniums and any other one that was a little different. She knew I would give her a handful of “sprouts” of each kind. Once I
suggested “Keep your 35 cents and get something to eat, and go on home with what you have.” I should have known better. She hotly gave me “Their dinner is
ready at home and I’ll go when I’ve spent my money. How much have I got here and what will it get?” I wonder if she sold her plants.
She failed to come for several months and then when she did come back she was suspiciously thick in the middle but explained it was her liver
“all swole up”. The doctors said it would have to come out but she was going to drink lots of burrdock root tea as she didn’t like hospitals. The swelling went
away and when she came back the next time she wore fetching ice blue satin house coat and again I assured her that she certainly did not look to be 70!
Among our other customers for Spring plants, was an elderly doctor and his semi-invalid wife from a nearby town.
Mrs. Brown was a large woman and she was recovering from a stroke so it was a slow painful trip for her down three steps into the green
house. They came one day while I was waiting (and I do mean waiting) on my sprout collector.
As she was never ready to go anyway, I asked her to excuse me and turned to the Doctor. I could have saved myself as my old friend became my
sales lady and earnestly recommended anything and everything I had, and said she, “I know, because I always come here instead of going to the other greenhouse.”
I’ve never found out what they thought of her sales talk.
The day came when I had to tell the old lady that we had decided to retire from business. She tried to get a sample of everything we had and then
asked my advice for the last time. She had applied for an old age pension but had no proof of her age, and so was having difficulties. I remembered that she had told me more
than ten years before that she was 70 but I couldn’t think the Welfare Office would take my word for it. She had tried in vain to find someone to vouch for her age. If
only her mother were living; she died a few years ago and she was 92. “And I can’t make the office believe me, but my mother knew, didn’t she? And she always
said I was 70!”
I no longer sell plants. I haven’t seen her since, but I hear of her. I have friends in “the office.” They won’t
take my word that she was 70 eleven years ago. They say she isn’t even 60. Her husband was fined for careless driving (he looks like he’s 90) and when she went with
him to pay another dollar on the fine, she looked at all the pots and boxes in the clerk’s office windows and said “I sure love flaw’rs. Are these yourn?
D’you reckon I could have a sprout?”
Transcribed verbatim from spiral-bound pencil notes by Grace Vaughan Jones (nee Bunch), 1897-1984, circa 1955, West Plains, Missouri. Grew up
in eastern Kansas and taught elementary school until her marriage to Birl Jones at Lawton, Oklahoma in 1917.
Copper artwork signed 'GB' circa 1960, framed by C. Jones, grand-daughter, after she recovered it & the notebook buried in a box of mementos underneath West Plains Greenhouse account books and receipts.