A HOLIDAY STORY
A short (very) short story
by G. Jack Sakilla
illustrations by David Willson
December 23, 1929 - Mamaroneck, New York
Stewart Everson was doubly upset this afternoon. Not only was he being tested with an insurmountable problem, but he had been requested to stay at work until he solved it. This close to Christmas, extra hours were not in Stewart's plans. He had hoped to leave work a few minutes early and stop by the sweet shop to pick up a few goodies for his family's holiday celebration. Stewart was the assistant clerk in charge of store display at Healey Mercantile and he had been told by Mr. Healey the tightwad, Mr. Healey the slave driver, Mr. Healey…the owner, to rearrange the front window display. It seems that several inches of snow were expected by morning and Mr. Healey wished to have all manner of appropriate items prominently displayed where the casual passerby might be tempted to part with a few Christmas dollars for something useful such as galoshes or a snow shovel. Of course, Healey expected the practical items to be incorporated into the already existing Christmas display. How in the world does one display a pair of galoshes next to a singing angel?
He sat looking blankly at the window with one lone Christmas tree and singing angels. Stewart wondered how he could possibly incorporate snow shovels and galoshes into his display.
Everyone else had been granted an early afternoon to prepare for the holiday. Stewart was beside himself as he sat in the empty store pondering his dilemma. On his way to work that morning he had passed by the notable nursery of G.E. Baldwin & Co. and noticed a pile of discarded plants destined to die in the winter cold. He gathered up as much as his arms could carry and stashed them in the basement of the store, intending to bring any living thing home to his beloved wife Caroline as a Christmas treat. As he sat looking blankly at the window with one lone Christmas tree and singing angels, he wondered how he could possibly incorporate snow shovels and galoshes into it. Then he remembered the stash of plants in the basement and fetched them to the showroom. They all looked very sad and worthless indeed. The sooner Stewart got started the sooner he would finish,so he began rearranging the showroom window. He removed the empty wrapped packages below the Christmas tree. Dismantled the single oval of track with the railroad train on it. Removed the miniature stuffed reindeer and teddy bears. Removed the lacquered music boxes…the shiny new cookware, the mantle clock, the picture frames, the singing angels and the two colorful poinsettias. Stewart removed everything but the Christmas tree. Then he went about the store and gathered snow shovels, galoshes, candles, a kerosene stove, lanterns, and set them all next to his pile of wilted plants rescued from Baldwin & Co. Could he ever make a display of this window? After an hour of work Stewart was feeling better. Although in his mind this display did not make any sense whatsoever, at least it had balance! So it goes with the artistic types. The galoshes - two pair - were set beneath the tree as if Santa had left them. The two snow shovels were propped against the tree somewhat toward the rear. And the kerosene stove featured an assortment of candles and holders atop it. A few pair of mittens and some wool scarves were draped here and there. As he sat admiring his work he felt that it was still lacking something. There was certainly no room for the two poinsettias that he had removed. He glanced wistfully at the pile of rescued plants, then had an idea. He set a tin cup with some water into each of the pair of red ladies galoshes and stuck a piece of plant - what appeared to be philodendron - into each cup. There were two plants in the pile unlike any he had ever seen before. As he studied their stiff leathery leaves and wrinkled stems he noticed that they appeared to have several flower buds at the tops. He didn't quite know what to do with these plants that seemed dead, but had flower buds. The thick wiry roots were totally unlike the supple roots of the philodendron. Partly in jest and partly just to add a little more greenery, he stuck one each into the pair of mens' galoshes. He stepped outside to consider the new display, went back and made a few adjustments and feeling satisfied, locked up for the night.
The next day, Mr. Healey expressed admiration for the young clerk's dedicated work and rewarded the whole staff by closing an hour early. After all, it was Christmas Eve!
As Mrs. Adams followed her nose to the front window of the store a parade of employees, including Stewart and Mr. Healey joined in the procession.
Christmas came and went and despite having to make a last minute dash for sweets, Stewart enjoyed it immensely. Christmas fell on a Saturday so Healey Mercantile was closed until Monday. This was good because the Christmas rush always puts a strain on retail workers. On Monday morning things were as back to as normal as could be expected after a holiday. The employees were all buoyant after a well-deserved rest with family. Even Mr. Healey the tightwad was happy. It seems that he sold a record number of pairs of galoshes on Christmas Eve day. And only two inches of snow fell! There was however, a peculiar aroma about the store that nobody could seem to trace. Mr. Healey suspected that a rat had died in the basement and sent the shipping clerk to find it. By late morning the smell was overpowering and plans were underway to close the store until the source could be found. About that time, a Mrs. L. Sherman Adams of Wellsley, Massachusetts entered the store. She was visiting her sister in Mamaroneck for the holidays. Mrs. Adams was looking through the yard goods when a clerk asked if he could help her find anything and apologized for the somewhat foul odor wafting through the store. Mrs. Adams replied, "Now that you mention it young man, I do smell something unusual. But that is not a dead rat, that is an orchid!" "A what?" he asked. As Mrs. Adams followed her nose to the front window of the store a parade of employees, including Stewart and Mr. Healey joined in the procession. "There" she said, "Look at those beautiful Cattleya percivaliana. How did they get there?" There in the mens' galoshes were a total of seven of the most beautiful and exotic rich lavender flowers anybody in the store had ever seen. Of course, they did not smell very nice, they were Cattleya percivaliana. Stewart told his story of how he had found the discarded plants in front of Baldwin's. Mr. Healey then knew why he had sold so many pairs of galoshes and promised Stewart a promotion. Mrs. Adams confessed to being an orchid grower of some years and buying plants from Baldwin & Co. on many occasions. She encouraged Stewart to take one of the two plants home and told him how to care for it. Of course, Mr. Healey being the boss, took the other.
To put a rather right ending in this story, we would like to report that Stewart had such success with his Cattleya percivaliana that he went back to Baldwin's for another orchid in spring and many more thereafter and became a noted orchid nurseryman. This story takes a somewhat different twist however. Stewart did indeed visit Baldwin again, he was quite fascinated with these unusual plants with the exotic flowers. His next visit he took his sketchpad. Not only was Stewart artistic with showroom display, his natural talent gave him quite a propensity with pen and paper as well as watercolor. Over the next few years he would visit Baldwin's often and always take his sketchpad. George Baldwin was so impressed with the sensitive interpretations Stewart rendered of his orchids, that he displayed many of them in his showroom and promotional materials and paid Stewart quite well for them. We have no record of how far his talents took him because he signed his work with a pseudonymn, actually several different ones. Perhaps it was his intent to remain obscure. I can say that if you have looked through any old orchid literature you very well may have seen work done by one Stewart Everson, a man whose love of orchids began with one ill-smelling Cattleya percivaliana. A man who knew from first-hand experience that...Christmas stinks.
Click here to learn more about Cattleya percivaliana
David Willson is a South Florida illustrator whose weekly cartoon feature in The Palm Beach Daily News is always anxiously anticipated for its wry humor and oblique look at SoFla life.