Colleen Hagerty Haug’s first real job began in 1975 at age 12 at a North County florist owned by “my sister-in-law’s brother-in-law.”

It wasn’t uncommon, knowing someone who knew someone who would hire you under age 16 for perhaps less than minimum wage. Mine was at a place called The Malt Shop making shakes and dip cones. A lot of soft-serve cones died a chocolate-coated death before I got the flip right. 

Those first jobs, though, they never seemed like work. They were just fun. So for Valentine’s Day, a day when more flowers are sold than any other, here’s a story about blooming where you’re planted, about first jobs and second acts.

“I loved it,” said Haug, recalling her job at the Fleur-de-Lis Florist in Florissant, where she did everything from sweeping floors to cutting, pruning and arranging flowers. It’s where she learned to make beauty out of nothing, and where she tapped into a well of creativity she didn’t know she had. 

“But then I started high school and after that college...” Her voice trailed, but I knew what she meant. It was the 1970’s. There were expectations for girls: Good grades. Sports or clubs. College, and, once there, a major that would yield a solid profession. Chasing flowers was forgotten.

But it wasn’t like we sat around bemoaning that fact in Garner Hall, where I met her on the first day of college. That was almost 40 years ago, and now a lifetime has passed of marriages and kids, careers started and restarted, parents and friends lost. But back then, we understood the expectations, and went about the business of growing up best we could. 

Haug majored in medical technology and had a pretty good career while raising four kids in Webster Groves with her husband, Larry. We keep in touch, not every day or even every week, but she’s one of those friends you reconnect with instantly because you know each other’s dreams — most of which have centered around our kids these past decades.

But you never forget your passions, and Haug’s Webster yard is a beautiful garden. She’s one of those people for whom nurturing and nature comes effortlessly. She studies plants and seeds, sunshine and soil with the same vigor and work ethic she had in college. 

One thing leads to another, and she learns by doing. She cuts and she prunes. She arranges flowers for friends and family gatherings. People tell her: “Oh, you could totally do this professionally.” Last fall, her first wedding.

Next up? We’re on the sunny side of 50 now, and our kids are almost all grown. The only expectations we have to live under now are our own. A second act is there for the taking; the seeds planted long ago.