Golden
Tomatoes:
Abraham Lincoln
Amish Paste
Anna Russian
Arkansas Traveler
Beefmaster
Beefsteak
Better Boy
Big Beef
Big Boy
Black Krim
Bloody Butcher
Box Car Willie
Brandywine
Burbank Slicing
Campbell's 33
Caspian Pink
Celebrity
Cherokee Purple
Chocolate Cherry
Early Girl
Fantastic
4th of July
German Johnson Pink
German Red Strawberry
Giant Belgium
​Golden Jubilee
Italian Ice
Jelly Bean
Juliet
Kellogg's Breakfast
​Lemon Boy
Marglobe Improved
Mortgage Lifter
Mountain Fresh
Mr. Stripey
Old German
Old Timey Yellow
Park's Whopper
Patio
Persimmon
Pineapple
Pink Berkeley Tie-Dye
Principe Borghese
Roma
Rutgers
San Marzano
Saucy Lady
Sungold
Sunsugar
Sweet Chelsea
Sweet 100
Sweet Million
Tomatoberry
Ultrasonic
Yellow Brandywine
Yellow Jelly Bean
Yellow Pear
Peppers:
Alma Paprika
Anaheim Chili
Ancho Poblano
Baron
Big Bertha
California Wonder
Cayenne Long Red
Cubanelle
Early Jalapeno
Fooled You
Garden Salsa
Ghost
Golden Calwonder
Gypsy
Habanero
Holy Mole
Hungarian Hot Wax
Italico (Spanish Spice)
Medusa
Melrose
Merlot
Mini Red Bell
Mini Yellow Bell
Mosquetero
Peperoncino
Pimiento
Purple Beauty
Purple Flash
Serrano Chili
Super Chili
Sweet Banana
Tangerine Dream
Time Bomb
Tricked You
Other:
Broccoli Fiesta
Brussels Sprouts Jade Cross
Chinese Cabbage Pac Choi
Cabbage Golden Acre
Cabbage Late Flat Dutch
Cabbage Ruby Perfection
Cantaloupe Burpees
Cauliflower Snow Crown
Cucumber Bush Pickle
Cucumber Bush Slicer
Cucumber Homemade Pickles
Cucumber Fanfare
Cucumber Marketmore
Cucumber Patio Snacker
Cucumber Spacemaster
Cucumber Straight Eight
Eggplant Black Beauty
Eggplant Dusky
Eggplant Gretel
Eggplant Hansel
Green Bean Bush Blue Lake
Kohlrabi Early Purple Vienna
Kohlrabi Early White Vienna
Kohlrabi Kohlibri
Kohlrabi Superschmelz
Lettuce Flashy Trout Back
Lettuce Heirloom Cutting Mix
Muskmelon Halona
Okra Clemson Spineless
Rutabaga
Spinach-Baby
Squash Autumn Delight
Squash Black Beauty
Squash Fortune
Squash Waltham Butternut
Tomatillos
​Watermelon Sugar Baby
*We also have Onion Sets & Seed Potatoes (Red Pontiac, Butterball, French Fingerling, Yukon Gold & Kennebec)
**And we will have locally-grown sweet potato slips!


As we leave our son's home on Silver Dollar Pond, southeast of Melrose, Florida, it is in the low 80s, the sky is blue and flecked with fair weather cumulus clouds. A breeze brings refreshment especially in shade as it jostles the long leaf pines freeing streams of pollen that float and swirl before noticeably dusting many surfaces; the roof, the deck, the minivan's sloping windshield, even dark leaves of ornamental plants. Over the past twelve days we have watched spring transform Northern Florida, bringing fresh green to many ground covers, plants, shrubs and trees along with colorful buds and blooms.

With days in the low 80s and the night lows inching into the mid 60s, the sound of frogs has begun to fill the evenings and the first halves of the nights. The combination of frog utterances is musical. It will continue to grow through mid-summer and more insects will join in as spring unfolds. These music-makers seem to embrace the natural darkness with its dearth of man made light. And the night sky is truly stunning in this rural less-developed area--the star show is amazing--the darkness is as intense as in the large wilderness swaths out west.

The spring here seems especially welcome this year. Not that many weeks ago the area experienced repeated nights well below freezing and even a bit of snow fell about 30 miles to the north. But somehow preparations for spring hardly missed a beat over on the Brown's Farm only about 15 minutes away. They managed to get all the cool season vegetables planted and keep the strawberries on target for early yields. The result has been a bounty of leaf lettuces, cauliflowers, broccoli, kale, bok choi and berries. Oh if only our ornamental plant production didn't make it so hard to grow early season produce. Alas, we enjoyed the feast.

As we leave, the open live oak/long leaf pine and wire grass forest is resonating with the calls of a pair of sandhill cranes. Whether these birds are permanent area dwellers or migrants like us anticipating the trip north we can't say. But as we leave this unlikely paradise we hope to soon hear migrating flocks of sandhill cranes with their distinctive cries high above the Farm winging their way further north.

Our journey homeward begins in earnest after a late morning lunch at a cute rather more urban-influenced cafe in pretty traditional rural Florida county seat. We drive north through a lovely warm day. Several hours after the onset of darkness it grows cooler and rain begins south of Nashville, Tennessee. The showers continue as temperatures hover around 40 degrees for the rest of the night. We rest in Paducah, Kentucky, where the Ohio River is in flood and expected to rise higher.

Morning dawns gray and the trip up our tall state continues with spotty showers and temperatures around 40 degrees. By mid-afternoon we arrive at the Farm and unload plants from a Florida grower and some items we found on the trip to enhance our displays. The Farm's parking lot is soft and damp, though all of the snow is gone. It's not very pretty but there is a sense of fading winter and nascent spring is in the air. It feels like planting time. And I guess that means it's time to get back to work. I think I am ready.
1 1/2 c flour
1 t. baking powder
1 1/2 c. rolled oats
3/4 c. butter
1 c. brown sugar
1 jar apricot preserves of apricot filling

Mix flour, baking powder, brown sugar & rolled oats well. Cut in butter as for pie crust. Measure 1 cup of this mixture & set aside. Press remaining mixture into an 11 x 7 pan. Spread with apricot filling. Sprinkle with reserved mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 min.

,​ In a recent Wall Street Journal article I read that last summer the Chicago Cubs manager Joe Madden met Clemson University's football coach in the Cub's clubhouse at Wrigley Field during a rain delay. Interestingly, both Madden and Clemson's Coach Dabo Swinney are champs now; the Cubs having won a classic World Series last Fall and Clemson having just beaten favored Alabama in the last seconds of the NCAA Football Championship.
When they met Madden was wearing a tee-shirt with the words, 'Try Not to Suck,' a simple statement that might go a long way to explaining these men's philosophies to playing the game and their winning ways. Apparently both men bring a much less authoritarian control freak style to their teams than is traditional in their sports and both emphasize having fun and avoiding mistakes where in essence the players lose games to themselves.
Of course all of this is quite simplistic—but 'try not to suck' doesn't seem like a bad philosophy to me. Initially it seems like common sense and not all that difficult. And that is what makes it attractive and worth trying. Then you realize that trying not to suck is a commitment and an attitude and it takes concentration and self-discipline. As you try to master trying not to suck, you realize the importance of preparation and developing procedures or processes for all phases of your sport, other pursuit, or life in general. And once you have figured out what you need to do in a situation, you have to follow that process.
Anyone who has watched much football has definitely seen this scenario: a receiver is suddenly wide open and the football pass is right on target. But instead of making a routine catch and then beginning a heroic run to the goal line, the receiver drops the ball as he fails to direct sufficient attention to catching—thinking instead about that great run to come or perhaps an advancing defender. Maybe if the player was consciously trying not to suck, he would have reminded himself before the start of the play to prioritize his concentration and avoid distraction and so made the catch.
I can't say we ever had a clever edgy name for our philosophy of being ready for business at Redbud Creek Farm, but trying not to suck certainly describes what we do, indeed what we have to do, as we deal with so many factors over which we have no control. Does trying not to suck have relevance for the gardener? I think so.
Everyone desires immediate satisfaction from their plantings. Instead of hoping for miracles and being disappointed, I think folks will be a lot better off celebrating whatever good things are going on with their gardens while practicing basic good techniques of closely matching plants to their needs, providing adequate water and fertilizer, constantly upgrading the soil, and adopting successful weeding strategies. Trying not to suck does not have to mean that the garden will never be spectacular anymore than that a sports team which practices this philosophy will not perform with aplomb and win. It should mean that with a bit more concentration and doing things right on a regular basis that we will be in an even better position to achieve success in gardening and indeed all of our endeavors.
Many years ago I attended a wonderful university with a storied football program full of success. Sometime after I graduated a legendary successful coach installed a sign, 'Play like a Champion Today,' where players would see it just before taking the field. Traditionally I love that philosophy, play like a champion, but I don't think my new idea, try not to suck is opposed to it. To me they are linked; if we work in humility at trying not to suck—we might just get the exultation of playing like champions. Good luck!
​ I guess the 2017 season began for Nancy and me today, since this was our first workday of the new year at the Farm. Actually Nancy consumed most of yesterday checking on orders for annual plant material and herbs to the point of pain. Not that healthy pain that comes from working in the garden; rather that unpleasant discomfort of an almost locked up upper back and strained neck that comes from too long of a period interacting with a computer.
Today is not what you would call a nice day—high in the mid teens with increasing west winds, the kind that keep Old Glory flying straight out, and patchy skies that allow some greenhouse heating—just not enough of such natural warming.
Nancy and Dana work on removing exhibits in the store that were used for Christmas. Taylor takes down umpteen strings of Christmas lights before starting a project in House 1 to add some exhibit/work space by the flood tables. I begin the task of starting to make placards for each greenhouse explaining what types of plants are available within. These signs will be made of wood and painted with special verve by our artist/illustrator, Devona. Even if you don't read them, I'm hoping that you will find them cute, attractive and somehow adding to the Farm plant-hunting experience. And if people do read them, maybe we can share a little more about plant attributes and a little less about where they can be found.
Picture
A typical Devona-created sign...if you use a little imagination, you can channel a bit of warmth & maybe a hint of aromatic smoke from the FFA cooking pork chops at this year's Annual Celebration of Summer, June 17, 2017.
​ It is the Saturday after Thanksgiving and as is typical in most years the Season of Advent begins for most Christian denominations on Sunday. One of our local churches celebrates a 'Hanging of the Greens' Service to mark the beginning of Advent and their spiritual journey toward Christmas.
For years they have included the Farm in their service by procuring Farm-made wreaths and a garland for the church entrance area. We have always welcomed the sale of the greens and hung them as a small service to the members of that important community pillar.
The afternoon is amazingly pleasant for late November and it shouldn't take very long to hang the garland. Before I start, I add some fresh nails and begin to wire the fresh garland around the church entrance. But damn—there is a little bit of a problem. The garland is too short; if left in place it would look like someone wearing pants that are a couple of sizes too small—not very flattering especially as a symbol of everlasting life. So I take down the garland and head back to the Farm to get a 30' rather than the usual 25' garland that we have used for years. Apparently my new nails have rounded out a more attractive but slightly longer path for the garland. And our new garland winding machine is equipped with a totally accurate builtin measuring gauge so the garlands from years past may have been a little longer than they were meant to be. It is kind of maddening but on this pretty afternoon I remain calm.
Back at the Farm, a family of accomplished musicians are taking turns playing Christmas carols on the Farm piano located on the Big Barn porch. The carols are so beautiful wafting across the landscape. While Taylor goes to work making my new 30' garland, I get ready to take a walk with my son Ben who is visiting from Florida for the holiday weekend.
We amble off to strains of Pachelbel's Canon coming from the piano. It is just the beginning of the piece as drama and tension build. Our first stop is to overlook the River's quiet flow. The water is darkly clear but its mirrored surface reflects the streaky sky's myriad of late afternoon color. Then we walk around the field past tall weeds and prairie plants and grasses as the sun drops toward the horizon and finally sets. I think that Canon in D still playing in my head is an apt accompaniment to a really pretty walk and sunset.
Outside of Greenhouse 7 I grab the new 30' garland and then head the truck back to the church even though it is now nearly dark. The church entrance is well illuminated by a sign and I am able to quickly hang the fresh garland, trimming just a bit off of each end. Then I hang the two 24' Fraser Fir wreaths with hand-tied red velvet bows, one on each door. In my opinion the church's simple traditional entranceway looks beautiful with the addition of the garland and wreaths. I've done my Hanging of the Greens service for this year. Of course the real 'Hanging of the Greens' Service will come in the morning. But I feel very lucky, the greens have framed a late afternoon/evening full of beauty and camaraderie. I have been blessed.
In our kind of business we hear and witness a lot of cancer stories. Not all of them have very happy endings. Sometimes folks ask us about why we are involved with Relay for Life, usually wondering whether we have a cancer story. It turns out that we do have a story.

Nancy's mother went from colonoscopy to colon surgery in a day. The cancerous mass was large and advanced. There was no time to think about it. Arlene, still half-sedated from the colonoscopy procedure, went marching into battle against a dangerous aggressor. She didn't have a lot of choice but at least her medical generals had some weapons and a plan that just might work if she was tough enough. As the initial shock of the situation moved into good recovery from surgery, one begins to sort things out. Nancy, just starting to get ready for a new season at fledgling Redbud Creek Farm had a little problem. First her mother had a really serious health problem. That same mother was also her only real employee at the Farm. Without this key employee, how will enough of the various tasks for a new season ever be completed?

As soon as Arlene regained a semblance of good health her next step was chemotherapy. In those days, not that long ago, chemotherapy was a really big deal for most colon cancer patients as these amazingly toxic chemicals were administered aggressively enough to terminate the cancer without quite terminating the patient. With each administration of the drugs the negative effects on Nancy's Mom zoomed, several times sending her back to the hospital. As the situation worsened, Nancy faced increasing concern about her mother and it became increasingly obvious that Mom wasn't going to be deadheading plants anytime soon.

Amid all of the trauma of watching your mother grow sicker and wondering how this crazy business was going to get off the ground, a customer named Kim appears in the checkout line and asks Nancy how things are going. Nancy tells Kim about her mother and the fact that she is not only really sick, but Nancy's only day to day worker. Kim mentions that her own mother whose name is Phyllis just quit her job and might be able to help out. Nancy wonders if this exchange about a potential new helper was arranged in heaven. Within a few days Nancy has hired her first employee-Phyllis is working at the Farm. And the wonderment about that conversation with Kim and the gift of Phyllis has never diminished. Phyllis has brought so much to the Farm-her can do attitude, her generosity, her friendliness, her skills and work ethic, and all her props and furniture and connections-she has very much contributed to the unique atmosphere and mission that make Redbud Creek Farm so special.

Nancy's mother went through two regimens of chemotherapy until she nearly died from it. Apparently the cancer cells were killed or retreated so deeply that they haven't reappeared yet. Arlene slowly recovered and eventually resumed several tasks at the Farm. And even now, well beyond normal retirement, she still keeps track of employee hours, compensation, and reports to the governmental authorities. It has grown into quite a job-there were 17 different employees to keep track of last year.

And Phyllis too, still works at the Farm mostly on special projects. She did most of the seeding this year which is kind of a big deal since we grow all of our vegetables from seed as well as some annuals. Phyllis has been dogged by several cancer episodes too including all the diagnostic routines followed by surgeries, additional post op treatments, and watchful waiting. Through it all she has managed to retain her positive attitude and sense of humor.

At the Farm we have been blessed in many ways including the contributions of two special women; Nancy's mother. Arlene, and our first employee and very good friend, Phyllis Hecathorn. Not so many years ago cancer would have claimed both these womet. Instead their lives have continued to unfold in fairly normal ways, and all of us at Redbud Creek Farm have been enriched. We are grateful to have Relay for Life, it could not be more aptly named or more important to the essence of who we arte at the Farm. Won't you join us?
The book The $64 Tomato by William Alexander (Algonquin Books ©2007) was a Christmas gift from our public defender son. If his legal choices are half as right on as was this book for his two aging, yuppyish, gardening parents, it would appear that his clients are getting very competent representation.

At its heart, The $64 Tomato is a compelling saga of establishing and growing a super garden, interwoven with home, family and their Hudson River Valley locale. The narrator and chief gardener is a manager of computer systems at a Research Institute and his wife is a medical doctor. They have two children. The narrative spans approximately 20 years as they progress through middle age.

Alexander's writing is remarkably pleasant; for Nancy and me it was a spring day that we just had to embrace. Though he is articulate and obviously bright, he is funny with a refreshing sense of humility and candor. His overall story is entertaining, occasionally poignant and sweet yet wistful. The prologue titled 'Gentleman Farmer' (reproduced here without permission, so please don't bust me) typifies the author's style and sets the stage for what to expect from this little tome:

'Why can't Dad be more like other dads?' Katie asked my wife recently. 'All my friends' dads spend Sundays watching football and drinking beer.' Then for good measure she added, 'I wish we had a normal family.'

I was flabbergasted when I heard this. This is a thirteen-year-old's ideal of a father? Belching beer in front of the TV on a Sunday afternoon? I realize that most teenage girls think their families are weird (and their friends' families cool), but still I was a little hurt. While this conversation was taking place, I was in the garden, of course, even though it was December. The first hard freeze of the season was coming in overnight, and I needed to harvest the remaining leeks. Later, while the Jets were blowing a close one, I was in the kitchen, making steaming leek-potato soup that Katie positively swooned over at dinner. And she wanted to trade me in for a beer-drinking couch potato?

Granted, I have my obsessions and eccentricities, the garden being most obvious, and maybe I'm not a typical dad, but I'm certainly normal. I decided to visit Zach's bedroom for a reality check from a levelheaded seventeen-year-old.

'Zach, you'd say I'm a normal dad and we're a normal family, wouldn't you?'

'Ah-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha…' He nearly fell out of his chair, where he might have vanished for days beneath a deep pile of unwashed laundry, sweatshirts, textbooks, magazines, a trombone and a euphonium, and two guitars.

'I'll take that as a no?'

'You've got to be kidding,' Zach said, turning to face me directly. Zach has mastered the teenage art of subtly turning the tables on parent-child roles and making me feel the child, sheepish and a little embarrassed as he assumes the role of a wise parent. 'Nothing is normal about this family,' he lectured, not smiling.

I've long known that I'm a little short on self-awareness, but this gap between my very own kid's perception of our family life and mine was shocking nonetheless.

'In what ways, Zach? It feels pretty normal to me.'

'Dad, just look around.' Zach said, becoming exasperated with my denseness. 'Take this house, for one. And you just came in from the garden. In freakin' December.'

'How was that leek soup tonight?'

'And you cook.'

'It was good, wasn't it? I think the leeks are sweeter late in the year.'

Zach spun his chair back to his computer, sighing and shaking his head. 'December,' I heard him mutter under his breath.

While the book has relevance well beyond the garden, it is the experienced gardener who will find the author's perfectly-paced stories and segues so eminently familiar and enjoyable. Book reviewers often mention the words 'cautionary tale' or some such phrase and I'm pretty sure those words have been applied to this text. So while the veteran gardener might identify many aspects of this book as her story, it is the aspiring gardener who might take some cues from Mr. Alexander and prepare for some of the issues in her immediate future.

Nancy and I especially liked The $64 Tomato because so much of it reminded us of our experiences in gardening (the weather, the weeds, the pests, the chemical dilemmas) and in other aspects of life; owning an old house, living and raising a son in a not quite typical 20th or 21st century American existence. As garden center proprietors we found the book full of insights and challenges for though William and Dr. Ann Alexander might (unfortunately) not be our customers, we know and serve many who are replicating significant aspects of their adventures.

(The book, The $64 Tomato is available at Redbud Creek Farm.)


Once again I am working on the rock garden, the one just to the right of the 'Welcome' structure as you enter the garden center from the main parking area. There is a lot of grass growing into the creeping thyme and it is a never-ending job to keep it out. It puts me in a foul mood. I'm wondering do they have tasks like this over at the 'big box' stores? And of course I know the answer—because they don't have an actual planted garden, or tree, or even a real grass strip anywhere near their paved garden centers.

I'm remembering the beautiful May morning in Atlanta 2008 when our son graduated from Emory University. The commencement speaker was Bernard Marcus, one of the co-founders and first CEO (for 19 years) of Home Depot. Though Mr. Marcus' speech was not exactly legendary (as say Steve Jobs' commencement address at Stanford in 2005), he told enough about his life and his experiences that you knew he was very bright and very rich and to his credit, very generous with his money.

As a first generation American, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants living in Newark, NJ, young Bernie was accepted to medical school at Harvard University. But because he was Jewish and at that time there was a quota of how many Jews would be allowed to attend Harvard's medical school, Bernie Marcus' admission had a 'little' prerequisite. He was required to make a 'special' contribution of $10,000 to Harvard before he would be allowed to attend medical school, an amount that was simply impossible for the Marcus family. As I dig in the clay containing the offending grass rhizomes, I'm thinking such discrimination is sickening and I sure wish that the Bernie had been treated fairly and gone on to medical school and a great career in medicine. I guess I'm also wondering why he couldn't have applied at some other institutions but apparently this prejudice against Jews was quite widespread among medical schools at that time.

Bernie thought he wanted a health career so he went on to become a pharmacist but couldn't have spent much time filling scripts. Instead he found his niche in the retail part of the drug store business and eventually ended up as the head of a home improvement chain based in Los Angeles called Handy Dan's. Bernie then 49 and his future partner at Depot both got fired from Handy Dan's after some kind of management squabble. I am finding a lot of very well-rooted grass in the thyme. As I keep pulling it out I am thinking it's too bad that Handy Dan's was so stupid. Why couldn't they have kept things going and like my favorite fast food chain, In-N-Out Burger, just continued to do their thing in California or on the west coast.

The truth be told, I like Bernie Marcus and Home Depot and the fact that people with a good idea can succeed and make oodles of money in our country. I think their philosophy of 'stack it high and watch it fly' is great when it comes to lots of items—even some in the garden area; tools, pots, fertilizer, chemicals, seeds and the like. I'm not so sure how well it works in so called green goods, especially with most of the live plants, but of course it doesn't matter what I think. We have been told by suppliers to the industry that Home Depot alone does as much garden related business as all of the independent garden centers in the country.

Bernie and his team and his successors are great marketers. They have established a network of stores that are easily accessed, full of well-displayed merchandise that lots of folks can use. They have made the shopping experience relatively pleasant and made buyers feel that they are getting a pretty good deal. They are so big and so rich that sometimes you wonder why you would even try to compete with them. And how is digging out this damn grass going to help this little Garden Center on the hill above Redbud Creek be competitive with Bernie Marcus' Depot and all the other big boxes conveniently located on major highways with paved parking lots and cartloads of factory grown plants stacked head high.

Actually the answer is simple. We are going to have a pretty place so if you are able to spend an extra 10 or 15 minutes getting here you will be rewarded with that simple beauty. Perhaps, my delightfully grass-free aromatic thyme will welcome you as you amble across the gravel from your parking spot. And from my perch on my knees, I am going to greet you and see how we can help you. If by chance you're looking for plants I'll direct you or (if I can get up quickly enough) I will walk you past all kinds of beautiful plants, most of which were grown right here, to what you are looking for. If you want I will suggest alternatives. I will show what combinations are really stunning. I will help you to find the look you are seeking with colorful vigorous plants and the price will be very fair. And I will not let you plant creeping thyme bordering Kentucky bluegrass. Ever.



Before Carole A left the 'monotony' of Southwest Florida weather to return to the Chicago area where she was born and had lived most of her life, she asked my father if we would take in a few boxes and store them in our machinery warehouse until she picked them up. Within a few days UPS delivered a total of 26 white 'file storage' boxes (sometimes called 'Bankers Boxes') to the warehouse. The boxes were piled on a large double axle cart awaiting Carol A's arrival. The anticipated rendezvous never occurred. For though Carole A returned to Chicagoland, she almost immediately became very sick and was hospitalized; the diagnosis—end stage lung cancer. She died within a few weeks.

After more than six years of waiting for Carole A's son to claim the boxes the task has fallen to me to deal with them as we prepare to vacate the machinery warehouse. I'm thinking that the contents of the boxes probably belongs mostly in the dumpster but maybe there are some items I should take to Goodwill or save for her son in the unlikely event we can track him down again. With my Swiss army knife drawn, I tackle the tape on the first box.

The tape on the box is consistent with the Carole I once knew; applied quickly, haphazardly, and in great abundance. The tape job may not be stylish but it is effective—getting the top off the box requires quite a bit of effort. And I'm not sure the effort is worthwhile. The box yields a bible in a wooden box plus some paperback self-help books, two damaged ceramic statues of elephants, a rather nice tall Virgin Mary statue wrapped in a towel apparently for protection, unfortunately the haloed head has broken off in transit. The box includes a couple of oversize t-shirts and lots of business cards proclaiming, 'Carole 'A'' and listing the real estate brokerages with which she was affiliated.

Our long time shop supervisor, now retired but moonlighting for a few hours a week as his place of employment for fifty years finally closes, comes over and decides to go to work opening boxes. After attacking the layers of sticky tape and dusty cardboard for several minutes with a dull box cutter, he finally manages to open a couple of boxes. One yields several old sweat shirts and the other a number of pairs of shoes and boots. In disgust he says to me, 'why don't we just stack these boxes in the dumpster—they're so damned hard to open and you know this stuff's just gonna be all junk.' I demur telling him that I'll open them. He heads home (probably with a stop at a favored local 'watering hole') and I continue. It's just me and Carole's memory in a big industrial structure full of production metalworking machinery that needs rebuilding. The building is old with lots of windows and skylights so there is plenty of natural if somewhat muted light. Various furnaces drone on then flick off keeping the place around 40 degrees.

I slit open some more boxes. More clothes for relaxation; loose fitting and large. I wonder if Carole gained some weight since the days I knew her. Then there is a little collection of Christmas stuff, more paperback books and lots of purses and handbags that will be great for Goodwill. I first met Carole when I started working in the machinery business as a high school junior. She was what was then called a secretary. She could write in shorthand faster than ordinary people could speak and even more incredibly, she could actually type finish quality documents as a person spoke normally. I was 16 years old; she was 32 and the mother of a 10-year-old. She and her child shared an apartment with her mother. Carole loved to talk especially about politics, religion, and general gossip. She was hardworking, dedicated to her son, and very attached to her church.

I am getting almost adroit at opening the boxes. There is a space just under the lid which becomes the target for the knife so I end up cutting mostly layers of tape and very little of the cardboard. The flow of items continues: well used hair dryers and heated curlers, a hot pot, all shapes of paper containers, a like new little blue clock, lots of oversize loose fitting clothes, a National Geographic coffee table book on elephants, theology/philosophy books by Jacque Maritain and Dietrich Bonhoeffer and lots of feel good pop psychology by Leo Buscaglia. Not long after I got to know Carole she went to work on helping me gain admittance to my dream college, the University of Notre Dame. That was typical Carole—fired up in pursuit of an impossible cause that really wouldn't benefit her in the slightest.

Her efforts were huge and brassy beyond belief. With her sometimes infectious enthusiasm she got her friendly very well -connected parish priest to get three other very prominent clerics to write letters of recommendation on my behalf. Whether her efforts were responsible we'll never know for sure; but I ended up in one of the most selective colleges in the country. And so while I can't say that Carole was a saint or that I never had serious disagreements with her, she will always occupy a very special spot in my psyche.

As I continue the great unpacking, I think about Carole. By the time I returned from college all full of business school knowledge and youthful vim and vigor, Carole had probably worked for the company for 10 years. She worked well enough with my father, his partner, and me, but with everyone else there was always some kind of issue or conflict brewing. Still we were productive and profitable. She drove out a kind of all-around-guy who did sales, managed projects in the shop, handled shipping, and did the company's books.

My sister joined the company as the bookkeeper and cost analyst. Carole had a hard time with that. She didn't like working with women and she felt cheated that the job didn't go to her despite her lack of accounting knowledge. I thought Carole was pretty good with customers and I encouraged her to learn more about the machinery, but my father was firmly rooted in that Don Draper pre-contemporary era where women could work hard—just not have any significant power or salary and in truth there were very few women in the industry in those days. So Carole secretly began studying to obtain a real estate broker's license. I figured what she was up to and I remember the day she learned she passed the test; she wouldn't reveal what she achieved but she was very happy. So it was no big surprise when she blew some slight or disagreement into a big deal and quit. I empty at least three boxes filled with real estate books, manuals and test materials from both Illinois and Florida into the dumpster. There are parts of listings, contracts, and memorabilia from some of her successful transactions.

And beyond more purses, shoes, and oversized clothes, there are all kinds of books on sales, self motivation, and religion. When I worked with Carole she was a liberal Democrat. From conversations through the years I knew she had veered politically rightward. I chuckle as I unpack books by Limbaugh and O'Reilly and religious tomes by Rick Warren and other conservative pastors. There are a couple of books on food and then there are loads of VHS tapes; a couple on nature themes but mostly Sopranos episodes she probably recorded.

In one of the last boxes I come across a special newspaper section on Hurricane Charley, a category 4 storm that smashed SW Florida in 2004 not long after Carole had moved there. Carole found the whole thing pretty traumatic; the damage, the heat, the initially slow pace of recovery, the algae growing in her soaked carpets all the while with no way to generate income. As I look around at the piles for Goodwill, the dumpster, additional consideration, and all these ugly oversize clothes, plus dirty cardboard and too much tape now in all kinds of random messy shapes strewn everywhere, I get the feeling of a natural disaster.

Fortunately, there is not much in the way of personal memorabilia. There are a few death notices and prayer cards, a single black and white photo of Carole, maybe from high school, a few pieces of inexpensive jewelry. I take about 45 minutes to get the Goodwill items packed, the cardboard ready for recycling and the balance in the dumpster. I keep a little set of handy tools, a tall pretty vase, the little blue radio and book on elephants.

In the overall, I don't suppose that Carole was dealt the greatest hand. Still she sought to better herself—and at a time when many are settling back she undertook the great adventure of seeking her fortune in Florida. Of course her timing wasn't the best between general economic malaise, a hurricane, and local overbuilding and speculation. I admire her spunk and her guts. And as we mop the tables with her old towels, arrange flowers in her pretty vase, and enjoy the convenience of her little blue clock in Acorn Hall, I hope a little bit of her spirit will be present helping us to fearlessly embrace a very scary future.