Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Two Minnesota businessmen pitch vacuums & flowers for Valentine’s Day via poetry February 12, 2013

VACUUM CLEANERS AND ROSES seem an unlikely pair. But for long-time Waseca businessmen and friends, Rick Morris and Charlie Mathern, pairing the two has become a pre-Valentine’s Day tradition that began some 20 years ago when Rick noticed Charlie had vacuum cleaners on sale.

Rick, owner of Waseca Floral, suggested he pitch flowers and Charlie, owner of Charlie’s Hardware, push vacuums in a joint half-page print ad with this long-standing lead-in:

On Valentine’s Day, Charlie & Rick say—Sweep her off her feet! Vacuum Cleaner?…or Roses?

Then the fun began as each tried to persuade potential customers, via poetry, to choose a vacuum over roses or roses over a vacuum. This year’s ad, published February 5 in The Waseca Area Shopper, features these poems, among others:

Charlie:

Thorny roses? Fussy violets?
Wow her with flowers and you’ll be the pilot

Rick:

Roses are the language of Lust
Vacuums are the prattle of so much dust

Valentine's Day ad 2013

This shows all but the bottom portion of the 2013 print ad.

The back-and-forth bantering continues amid photos of vacuums intermixed with red poetry hearts on the left side of the ad and images of floral arrangements interspersed with poetry hearts on the right.

The valentine ad has always been about vacuums and flowers.

And, clearly, it’s also about fun.

“We just get silly with them (the poems),” says Ann Mathern, Charlie’s wife and the author of Charlie’s vacuum cleaner poetry. “The crazier, the better. I don’t know if we can call this poetry.”

Rick concurs: “I write a couple of lines at a time. It’s not exactly poetry.” He pulls out a blank sheet of paper and, in a few hours or less, pens floral-themed couplets like:

She wants roses, there is no doubt
Give her a vacuum and she may throw you out

Ann, a first grade teacher, meanwhile, sits at her computer and, in about 45 minutes, centers her eight rhyming poems around whatever vacuums Charlie is trying to sell:

Come on—admit it—flowers in a vase
Can’t compete with a Sebo, they’ll never keep pace

Rick Morris, owner of Waseca Floral for 40 years. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, February 2012.

Rick Morris, owner of Waseca Floral for 40 years. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, February 2012.

The poetry/sales competition gets exactly the results Rick and Charlie want—attention, laughter and sales. “People look for it (the ad),” Rick says, and will mention the ad when they purchase Valentine’s Day flowers.

Likewise, down at the hardware store, the ad generates sales. But it also sparks the occasional call from female customers angry about suggesting a vacuum cleaner as a Valentine’s Day gift, Ann Mathern says.

Charlie, who fields those sometimes unhappy calls, explains that the Valentine’s Day ad is all in good fun by mutual agreement with his good friend Rick. Occasionally Rick and Charlie need to remind themselves of that, especially when they read some of the barbed poetry.

Rick:

Flowers are beautiful and oh so sublime
Vacuums are ugly and filled with grime

Charlie:

Your honey might settle for a pretty bouquet
But she’d choose a Hoover if she could have her way

Roses pack coolers for Valentine's Day 2012 in this Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo from Waseca Floral.

Flowers pack a cooler for Valentine’s Day 2012 in this Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo from Waseca Floral.

No matter what’s written, Rick and Charlie take it all in good humor. After 30-plus years of friendship and eating breakfast together between 6:30 – 7 every morning except Wednesday (when Rick has bible study) at various Waseca cafes, they know each other well, even sharing the same dry sense of humor, Rick says. Their wives, Ann and Sheila, join them for breakfast on Fridays.

Just like the daily breakfast tradition, Rick expects he’ll continue publishing the joint flowers versus vacuums ad with Charlie as long as the two are in business and he and Ann can keep writing their so-called poetry.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Disclaimer: My sister, Lanae, is a floral designer at Waseca Floral. That did not influence my decision to write this post. I know a great story when I see/hear one.