Flowers are associated with the happiest and saddest moments of people’s lives.
Like a mother’s love, they always seem to show up at just the right time.
Few know this better than Ray Cornelison Jr. Last year at this time, his flower shop – a fixture on the Square in downtown Decatur – was in danger of closing until Mom came to the rescue.
“She’s my rock,” Ray said. “She’s the reason I got to stay open last year. If it wasn’t for her this shop wouldn’t be here anymore.”
Ray has battled cancer since 2010, but last spring the disease came back with a vengeance.
“I couldn’t work for four months,” he said. “I had to go through three surgeries. My first stay in the hospital last year lasted for 21 days.”
So Pat Cornelison retired from nursing and devoted herself to caring for her son and running his floral shop, A Ray of Flowers.
“During that time you could have called it ‘A Pat of Flowers’,” Ray said with a smile.
Seated next to him, she helped him arrange a delicate blend of blue, white and yellow flowers for a new mother. Their hands criss-crossed as they placed slick-surfaced greenery between feather-soft petals.
“I was a nurse in a doctor’s office for 34 years,” Pat said. “But when Ray got sick I retired.”
In addition to running the busy shop, she took Ray to every one of the 42 radiation treatments he had to undergo during that period.
Fortunately, she already knew all about floral arranging. She’d been helping out at the shop since it first opened eight years ago.
“I taught her everything she knows,” Ray said. “She is a Ray’s Floral Boot Camp survivor.”
He even made her a certificate that hangs in the back of the shop, proclaiming her graduation from his course in floral art.
And just as she survived boot camp, Ray survived his savage brush with cancer. Now in remission, he focuses again on his work.
And with Mother’s Day approaching, there is plenty to do. This year they will create approximately 700 arrangements for the holiday.
On top of that, several area schools are holding proms this weekend. In between Mother’s Day arrangements that feature combinations of pink-petaled roses, white and purple-tinted lilies and puffy carnations, the small staff assembles all manner of intricate and personalized corsages. Colorful flowers billow throughout the back rooms of the business like an impromptu botanical garden.
Through the seasons and holidays, birthdays and births, funerals and weddings, they go through the same ordeals all family members go through.
“We have our ups and downs,” Pat said. “But we stay happy most of the time. We just say what we have to say and move on – we don’t hold grudges.”
“We’ve scared a few new employees over the years,” Ray added.
Part-time employee Chris Hartley has worked with them since Ray bought the shop.
“They work so well together,” she said. “I know everybody loves their mother, but I don’t think everybody could do what they do.”
This mother-son bond wasn’t formed overnight; they’ve always maintained a good relationship.
“Ever since he was little we’ve always been close,” Pat said.
“I always had the cool mom when I was in school,” Ray said. “It really bothered me back when I was little, because who wants to hang out with their mom? But now I’ve learned to appreciate it. Even to this day when I have a happy hour at the house all my friends ask me to invite Pat because she’s so much fun.”
They each prefer their own types of arrangements.
“I really enjoy making arrangements for funerals,” Pat said. “It’s good to know you can try to cheer someone up with flowers when they are going through such a tough time.”
Ray enjoys the planning and pageantry that goes into weddings.
“It’s not brain surgery,” he said. “We’re just trying to make people smile.”
But the holiday that means the most to Ray is Mother’s Day.
“A mother’s love is different than making arrangements for a girlfriend someone is trying to impress,” Ray said. “A mother will always appreciate the gesture.
“I’ve never been open on Mother’s Day because I want to spend that time with my mom,” he added. “I’ll deliver flowers until the cows come home on Saturday, but on Mother’s Day I’m going to be home.
“Mother’s Day is more personal to me than the other holidays. It’s our time. It’s when I get a chance to take care of her and do everything for her. It’s all about her.”
“But I do work her to death the six days beforehand,” Ray adds.
There’s just one thing Pat doesn’t want for Mother’s Day.
“Flowers!” she said with a laugh.
And though the flowers given on Mother’s Day eventually fade and wilt, a mother’s love, solid as the earth beneath us, sustains through the best and worst, and all the times between.
“Every time I’m upset or concerned about something, she’s always there to say it will work out,” Ray said. “There’s nothing like the support of a mom.”