I used to believe that great philosophers came with a Ph.D. or were really old. I now know that is not true. Some of the most profound philosophers I’ve met in my life have been people I would never have guessed to possess a philosophic mind.
The most recent example of this “disconnect” happened in a nursery while purchasing some perennials for our spring garden. The owner was a friendly guy who obviously knew a lot about plants and gardening. The “for sale” sign in front of the nursery told me he was retiring from the business.
I asked him “How are you doing with the sale of your business? Any buyers interested?”
He replied “Yes. There are two people interested but I’m not sure they can come up with the cash. In forty years, I’ve built a large inventory of nursery stock”.
We continued to talk for a while about the difficulty he was having attracting potential buyers for the business.
Then I asked him “What’s it like retiring from a business you’ve spent forty years building”?
He thought for a few moments and then said “Selling the nursery is emotionally harder than I thought it would be, but I think it’s time to retire. People don’t seem to garden as much as they did in the past. It feels like our culture is changing. I’m selling more flowers, but a lot fewer vegetables”.
“So what’s changed?” I asked.
That’s when the conversation shifted into philosophic mode.
He straightened up a display of garden tools on the counter and said “People are not spending as much time in the kitchen these days. It wasn’t so long ago that the kitchen was the center of a home. It was the place where the family gathered and spent time together.”
He went silent for a moment and then continued, “ I think that’s one of the reasons families don’t seem to be as strong, or as happy as they used to be.”
I nodded and encouraged him to continue.
“When I opened my business almost forty years ago, the people who came into my nursery seemed happier. The adults almost always came with their children. In fact, I spent most of my time back then answering the kids questions. How to plant tomatoes. How to stack old tires and fill them with dirt so they could make a potato plant produce more potatoes.”
He chuckled to himself and said “I would give the kids a free zucchini plant and they’d come back with their parents at the end of the summer and show me the zucchini’s that they’d grown.”
He drifted off into his memories for a moment, and then said wistfully, “This was a family businesses back then. People were happier and friendlier. Today it’s kind of rare for parents to bring their children. I miss them. It was fun teaching the kids how to grow vegetables.”
He paused a moment, his mood visibly brightening as he shook off the melancholy of retirement.
He then continued with more enthusiasm “Like I said, people just don’t seem to spend as much time in their kitchens any more—-not like they used to. I think families that had a vegetable garden not only ate healthier, they spent more time together in the kitchen. And “I” think that’s what brought families together.
He nodded at his own wisdom.
And then he surprised me by saying “I believe things may be changing back to how they used to be. I think it’s a good sign that the economy is encouraging people to get back to raising more of their own food. In fact, I’m telling potential buyers that I think this might be an excellent time to get into the nursery business.”
We continued to enjoy our conversation for a few more minutes. As I picked up my vegetable seeds and plants and headed toward the car I told him “if I was thirty years younger, I would take a serious look at buying this nursery.
He smiled and said quietly “You and me both”.