I volunteered to find 15 bouquets of flowers for a big event last week. Rather than order them from a florist or buy them at Pike Place Market, I located a grower. That gave me the opportunity wind my way east over wooded hills and across fertile farmland, to the little town of Carnation. There I met a Mr. B., who grows acres of flowers out in the valley. His wife sells the bouquets they fashion from their flowers at Pike Place Market in Seattle. They are Hmong people, from Laos.
Mr. B. and his family were forced from their mountain homeland when he was only ten. You may remember that Americans played a leading part in the tragic fallout from the Vietnamese war as it spread into neighboring countries. The Hmong people were caught between opposing forces. Many had to leave the area, or risk death. With his parents and seven siblings, Mr. B. survived six long years in a refugee camp across the border in Thailand. He told me it was a “good camp” camp, quite “flexible” as he put it, because his family was able to get out, through the sponsorship of a church in nearby Monroe. They arrived in America when he was sixteen. The first years were tough, and certainly cold, I imagine in many ways. But he persevered at school, he worked hard, grew his business, and now he has a good business and nice house, big enough for his own family, including his 91-year-old mother.
As she warmly clasped my hands in hers, her cane momentarily set aside, Mr. B’s mother smiled broadly and declared, “I am mother, I am happy.” When I asked after her health her son told me that though her physical body isn’t what it was, she is clear-minded and remembers well.
The stories she could tell… I wondered aloud about that. Mr. B. said he’s writing them all down. Her razor-sharp memories (“all the way back to China”) will help preserve their culture for the next generations. We talked about the trade-offs one makes when moving from an agrarian economy to a market-based one. His nephew suffers from too much stress and Mr. B. worries about him. He has a deep understanding the benefits of a multi-generational family (“Older people were always around me”) but he knows that tradition isn’t likely to survive much longer. You take the good with the bad, we agreed. He expressed a deep appreciation for the diversity here in America.
Mr. B. and I filled my little car with big bouquets of peonies, lilies, delphinium, pinks, phlox, daisies and Bachelor’s buttons. A heavy, sweet and intoxicating scent built slowly around me as I wound my way back through field and forest to Seattle.
The flowers were beautiful but the real gift was those minutes with Mr. B. and his mother. It was a privilege to meet them. I bow to them both.
Spring flowers at Pike Place Market and a flower seller, probably Hmong (taken in April, 2013).