Getting Closer

The dismantling of the nursery has begun. Many of the production beds are empty. Irrigation lines that are no longer needed have been cut up and removed. The shade cloth structure is coming down one section at a time. I can see small pieces of what the routine of my life has been for the last 21 years beginning to dissolve into thin air.

When I made the decision to retire, I knew this day would come. It’s a funny feeling to know, in a very short while, that I’m going to walk away from all this. There is an attachment to something a fella dreams and builds from the ground up.

This tree farm is nothing magnificent. There are plenty of nurseries out there much bigger, more polished, and more impressive. I know a lot of growers who grow a much better tree than we do. Cutting-edge guys who introduce new hybrids every few years.

That’s not us. From the beginning, we have been a meat-and-potatoes kind of operation.

But it has worked and worked well.

I get asked all the time, “Aren’t you gonna miss it?”

I honestly don’t know how to answer that. I can’t help but believe that there will be some part of this work and this place that I will miss. If you love what you do, there’s bound to be some post-partum blues, I guess.

I asked a buddy of mine who had a long career with GDOT about his retirement. I wondered if he had any regrets. His answer was pointed.

“I ain’t never looked back. They can burn it to the ground for all I care.”

So, there’s that.

The truth is that I’ve had a long time to disconnect. I’ve been planning and getting ready for my retirement for almost two years, now. I had to stop ordering liners and stop planting crops a long time ago so that this day could come. For me, it’s been more like an old grandfather clock winding down than having a leg chopped off.

If I’m not ready, I have no one to blame but myself.

But I am ready. It’s time and I can feel it in my bones. It feels right. It’s like asking your favorite girl to marry you. Like handing the car keys to your kid for the first time. Like closing the door on the house you grew up in for the last time and walking away.

There are certain passages in life that hit you square in the gut. You can’t ever know if you’re completely ready, but you know if you don’t go through with it you might just miss something great out in front of you.

I got a call this morning from Louise. Louise has been a customer of ours for 10 or 15 years I think. Long time. She is a garden designer in Atlanta. All of her work is with clients who have more money than God.

As it is with so many of my customers, I only know Louise from her voice over the phone. She sounds like Edith Bunker with a southern charm. I wouldn’t want her to know this, but I always smile when I’m talking to her. My name has three syllables the way she says it. Sweetness pours from every phrase. She makes me think of what it would be like to do business with my grandmother.

“If you don’t already know, Miss Louise, I’m retiring in the next few months and closing down the nursery.” I never know what kind of response I’ll get when I tell people this news.

“Oh my, that is so wonderful. I’m just so glad for you.”

The tone is kind of like a cross between a chicken cackling and a cat moaning. The words are drawn out slow as molasses. But the effect is endearing to my ear.

Which is different from some folks whose response has been, “Where the ‘bleep’ am I gonna get trees when you’re gone?”

She goes on. “I just know you’re going to enjoy life, and well you should.”

We talked a little bit about the ups and downs of business. The lean years and the good ones. She mentioned some of her projects where she’s used our trees and how much she has appreciated everything.

My age came up. It’s funny how you talk to people for years and how the little details of personal insignificance never get mentioned. You feel like you know this person. You talk like old friends every time you pick up the phone, but the reality is that you don’t know much about them.

“Lord, honey, I’m 79. But I think this may be my last hurrah. I’ve had enough. I’ve been saying that for years, but I mean it this time.”

“Miss Louise, you make me feel like a wimp.”

“Oh, no. Don’t you feel that way. I slowed down some when I was about your age, but I had so much energy and I needed something to do. People kept calling me for help and it’s kept me young all these years.”

“Well, thank you for being such a great customer.”

“Oh, thank you for everything you’ve done for me. Don’t ever forget there’s some very nice garden spaces that you helped make happen. You should be proud.”

There it is. If I miss anything about moving on it will be the people I’ve gotten to know who have helped make all this happen. There’ll be a few who I’ll stay in contact with I hope. But there’ll be a lot of them who I’ll probably never see again.

I’ll miss the other growers I’ve gotten to know. They have helped me figure out a lot about growing plants and running a nursery. We have laughed at our failures and shared our successes. These guys have to be among some of the most generous and genuine people I know.

I’ll miss chatting with some of my suppliers. I can pick up the phone and order anything from liners to irrigation valves, to chemicals and fertilizers. Many of them are like old friends. There’s a familiarity in our conversations that span decades.

I’ll miss talking with the guys who haul for us. They are an extension of our farm. They represent us when they get to their destination. I’ll always be a little jealous of Vincent, who got to meet and enjoy the company of Miss Louise. Without them, our trees don’t go anywhere.

I’ll miss the guys down in Mobile. I’ll miss the folks up in North Carolina. Birmingham. Atlanta. Dallas. Oh Lord, you should talk to Miss Carol Oswald in Celina, TX. Customers in Auburn, Opelika and Columbus.

I’ll miss the guys like Dewayne and Mark and Ken who every time they came to the farm, it was never just about trees. It was about life and kids and family and stories that stayed with you.

The end of an era is getting close. Things are changing. But I’m good with that because, good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, I ain’t done yet.

There’s more to life than work.

One thought on “Getting Closer

  1. I feel this down to my very bones. We stopped planting last year and it is a different spring this year with no new water lines to run and no small liners to be staked. But, like you said, it is time. I will miss my customers most of all. Plant people are generally the best and it’s been 34 years of building relationships for me. (We still have a year or so to move what is here.) I know that you will find a new kind of busy that fills your mind and your soul. You have worked hard for it. It may not be the retirement you envisioned but, just like your beautiful nursery, it will be exactly what you decide to make of it. Enjoy it all.


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