Tina Bradley of Allen’s Flowers in Columbia, Mo.
Many years ago, Tina Bradley was kidnapped while at work.
Making a stop deep in the Missouri countryside, Bradley was ushered inside the home of an elderly woman. The woman locked the door. She insisted on showing Bradley her volumes of photo albums. She took Bradley’s picture.
“I really need to get back to work,” Bradley said.
“Oh, no,” said the old woman. “You work for me now.”
Bradley gulped and smiled meekly. “May I have a glass of water?” she asked.
As the woman ambled to the kitchen, Bradley bolted out the front door and into her flower delivery van.
Bradley, a master designer at Allen’s Flowers on Ninth Street, has faced her share of peril on the job, usually on deliveries. Another time, a vicious dog bounded out of a customer’s house, chased her up the driveway and nearly bit her before she dived into the van.
Bradley has been in the floral industry since her teen years. While assembling floral bouquets for weddings, funerals and every other special occasion in the area, she wears a purple apron, shorts and tennis shoes — the uniform of a florist on the move.
Raised in Centralia, the married mother of three has been in the floral business for 27 years. She took a job delivering flowers in the 12th grade and has since graduated to floral arranger extraordinaire.
For her Master Designer certification, she memorized countless Latin and colloquial names for flower species. She can’t tell you how many flowers she knows, but her favorite name? “Leptospermum.”
Her work area is littered with greenery — stems, leaves and petals surround her table in the store’s back room as if she were standing on the floor of a forest. Bradley works with practiced efficiency amid the colorful decorations, assembling centerpieces for an upcoming wine tasting.
As she works, she chats and chuckles with her co-worker and cousin, Natalie Richardson. They recall all kinds of delivery horror stories, from an actual goose chase to dropping off an order at a “massage parlor.”
“You have to stand in a cubbyhole, in front of a camera, and wait for them to decide to let you in,” she says of that particular delivery. After dropping off the flowers, “I got the hell outta Dodge.”
She jokes, but she never complains. Upbeat and energetic, Bradley cheerfully bops from customer to phone order to bouquet arranging faster than you can say “chrysanthemum.”
Her long brown hair swishes back and forth as she darts around the store. Her brown eyes, wide and attentive, make everything she says seem of crucial importance. It probably is. In addition to flowering the town, part of Bradley’s job is putting out small fires, from bickering brides and mothers, to angry wives calling about that “secret admirer” bouquet her husband received.
And though she works her hardest to make her customers’ selections look perfect, some clients are just plain mean. On more than one occasion, she has fulfilled an order for black flowers with cobwebs for a 50th birthday. Another customer requested prunes in an arrangement.
Bradley’s connection to each customer is evident when she answers a phone call (sometimes with a phone in each hand), and when she talks about past clients.
“When I first started — for funerals — I’d get caught up and start crying with the families,” she recalls. “But it’s a good feeling when I know I’m helping to comfort people.”
“She’s very dedicated to her work,” says her husband, Allen. “A lot of people just do their day’s work, but she thrives on making flowers and making people happy.”
The graciousness of her customers is another draw that has kept her at Allen’s for more than a decade. Recently, for a doctor’s 80th birthday party, Bradley worked with the man’s wife to personalize the centerpieces with doctor-themed ornaments. “She was so pleased, so happy,” Bradley says with a grin.
Bradley has a million stories like these, but not much time to share them. After every couple of sentences, the printer buzzes and the phone rings with more orders.
“OK, I’ll pick out the prettiest flowers for you!” she exclaims to a customer before she hangs up.