If I had a single rose for every time I think of you, Mother, I could walk forever in my garden.
Florists across our nation are weary today. Americans typically spend $2.6 billion on floral arrangements for Mother’s Day.
Cleburne’s Steve Talavera at A Little Ben’s was busily arranging flowers when I made my purchase.
When we sat down to talk, he said, “I named my place A Little Ben’s here at 753 N. Main Street in Cleburne to honor the Ben Franklin’s store where I began my floral designing. Flamingo Bingo, which I also run, is located in the original store building.”
I asked about the many community and charity events where I had seen his work.
“I’ve worked every charity event imaginable,” Talavera said. “Donated time and discounted flowers have brought me so much joy. Using my creative skills to help others is what it is all about to me.”
Gail Hazlewood agreed.
“Steve is a fabulous man with so much talent,” she said. “He always tries to please. He gives of his time because he really loves people, and he never tries to drive up his prices.”
Nancy Gilliam recalled when Talavera designed and loaned table decorations for a recent ladies’ breakfast for her church at no charge.
When he applied to work in floral design at Ben Franklin’s in 1989, owner Shirley Kandt was cautious, he said.
“She said she wanted to see some arrangements that I could make before she made a decision on hiring me. My first customer was Marilyn Weiss. I made several arrangements for her home. She was so pleased.”
So was Kandt. He had the job — and kept it until the Kandts retired, and he bought the store in 2003 from Robert and Rebecca Roe, his good friends.
Talavera has helped decorate virtually every prom in the county — he is marking his 30th Cleburne High School prom this coming weekend, he said.
Three weeks ago he hosted the Life Skills Classes Prom at Flamingo Bingo. He donated the parlor and all decorations. The Cleburne Elks Lodge sponsored the event.
“It was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done,” Talavera said. “Some of the young people were in wheel chairs, only able to move some fingers and their eyes.
“It was so touching to see what a fantastic time they were having — students from Joshua, Alvarado, Cleburne, Burleson, Godley, Whitney and Keene — 138 of them with 78 sponsors. They had to literally help some of the students leave when it was over. They didn’t want to stop.”
He said he has had 500 brides. One out-of-town customer explained to him that her daughter had suffered great trauma at the hands of a predator in her past.
Before the wedding began the mother was overwhelmed by the beauty of his work. She said of her daughter, “You are going to give her everything. You are going to make her feel important.”
Talavera was born July 15, 1963, in Monahans to Richard and Ophelia Talavera. He attended school there until the fifth grade, when the family moved to Deming, N.M., where his father worked for a power plant. In 1979, they moved to Glen Rose for his employment Comanche Peak.
“School at Glen Rose was a culture shock,” he said. “I had attended some really good schools, funded by a tax base of oil and power plants. Glen Rose was so tiny then.”
But the economy soon changed. Talavera was among the first graduates of the new Glen Rose High School in 1981.
“I was in everything — drama, football, one-act play, band.”
He was already an entrepreneur.
“I worked at Norma’s Flower Shop in Glen Rose after school. I learned great techniques from her. I remember it was prom time, and I made 300 mums without any orders for them. What a gamble. But I took them to school — they all sold.”
He graduated from Tarleton State University in 1986, majoring in social work with a minor in English. He taught at Head Start before opening a clothing store in Glen Rose, and then worked with the mentally challenged at Spruce House in Grandview.
But he always worked with flowers. He had learned from Billie Lou Harris in Monahans how to build a secure funeral spray.
“There’s an art to that. After I would design one she would throw it across the room to see if it fell apart.”
He says there is a trend toward outdoor weddings now with country flowers.
“We may have 60 mason jars with daisies, wrapped in burlap. The flowers of the ’60s are popular now in floristry. It is interesting how tastes move in cycles,” he said.
Jo Ann Graham remembers Talavera’s orchestration of her daughter Karen’s wedding 16 years ago.
“There are talented, artistic, creative, resourceful business professionals,” Graham said, “and then there are the gifted.
“Steve is one of those.
“He totally works outside the box when planning a floral design for any occasion. Never satisfied to have any two events the same, but always new and always within the realm of what the customer wants.
“After talking with the Ben Franklin team it was decided that Bob and I should lay the project totally in Steve’s lap.
“Since it was in December he helped create a ‘Winter Wonderland’ with decorated trees and Christmas wreaths hung in the sanctuary. In our Family Life Center he created an outdoor lighted woodland scene. He was so happy and excited that it made us happy, too. He and his team worked very hard and spent hours collecting what they needed and sketching the plan in a notebook. He took pictures to begin his very own portfolio.
“I’ll never forget waiting in the foyer for my turn to go down the aisle to be seated. I looked behind me in the dark,” she said. “Steve and his workers were seated on the stairway to the balcony looking through the rails, watching with anticipation, still in their work clothes.
“Today his wreaths still decorate Field Street Baptist Church at Christmastime.”
Working carefully with a bride is also an investment in the future, Talavera admitted.
“You get baby showers, birthday parties, anniversaries, retirement parties — eventually more weddings because we made them happy at their wedding. After you’ve worked banquets and proms all over the county and Metroplex you get to know a lot of people.”
He paused and said, “Work has been my blessing. It has always found me.”
He said that Flamingo Bingo was not well received in the city when it first opened it in 1994 because it was gambling.
“But we have given more than $3 million to Cleburne’s nonprofit organizations and will continue to do so. Our money stays in Johnson County.”
His work schedule is staggering. He is at A Little Ben’s by 8:30 a.m. and closes up at 5:30 p.m. He opens Flamingo Bingo at 6 and closes at 9:30 p.m. When he is away for weddings and other events his assistant manager, Delilah Ball, is in charge.
“I’ve worked for Steve for 15 years; the longest I’ve ever worked for a boss,” said Ball. “He can absolutely make anything look good. A fine, hard-worker, he makes our jobs fun. I’ve watched him being so very patient with customers, always staying calm. We all are like family.”
Talavera married right out of high school but has been divorced for 20 years.
His family is centered in Glen Rose, where his brothers, Richard and Alvino, and his sister, Lisa Villa, and their families all live.
Always energetic and with many varied interests, Steve and Lisa entered dancing contests, growing up. He has taught dance to many young people of all ages who want to learn.
He said: “My nieces and nephews are like my own. I want to show them how to work hard and to finish whatever they start. I want them to become a spark of what we are as a family with the values and morals to become hard working Christians to make a difference in someone’s life.”
Talavera is an active member of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Cleburne, where he was presented an award for his Christian service.
I took my purchase from A Little Ben’s to the cemetery in Covington. White flowers for Mother’s Day.
My thoughts went back to my childhood there at First Baptist Church.
Two washtubs were placed just inside the front door on Mother’s Day. One tub had individual white roses grown in gardens at home, floating in water — the other, red. I remember proudly taking a red one to my mother because it was pretty to me.
“No, darling. I need a white one because my mother has gone to Heaven,” she whispered. I understood and proudly wore the red one for her.
Larue Barnes may be reached at email@example.com.