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  • Pots and pans banging around on countertops. Cabinet doors being opened and closed, with loud thuds. What was Henry doing out there? Kathleen Baumgardner just wanted to pull the covers over her head and continue her drowsy sleep on the already warm summer morning, but what with the sunlight creeping in around the curtains and then all that noise down the hall, it was impossible.

    Mrs. Baumgardner, the retired high school history teacher, wanted her life to be quiet and relaxed; however, it was anything but that, what with Henry always wanting to do something “new and exciting.” There had been hikes along the Muir Trail, parasailing in Acapulco, camping in Yosemite’s high country, hang gliding over San Francisco Bay. Why couldn’t Henry just play golf like their other retired friends? No, he liked to keep the momentum going, just like when he was working for all those years.

    “We are supposed to be retired, relaxed, and enjoying our later years,” Kathleen would say to him. “Why do you always have to try something new?”

    He had been like that when he worked. Being a classroom teacher wasn’t enough. Henry had to coach. And not just one sport, but three—football, basketball, baseball. When that wasn’t so exciting, he got an administration credential so he could become a principal. Not just a plain, boring principal, but the principal at every new school the district built. Henry accepted every challenge the large district threw at him and succeeded. He turned schools around. He took over where others had failed. He brought new schools on board and made them successful. And, he had fun doing it.

    Why did he retire? Because Mrs. Baumgardner had been teaching for 38 years and she was tired and wanted to retire. The classroom wasn’t much fun any more. All anyone cared about were her standardized test scores. Not that her students got 4s and 5s on Advanced Placement tests, or that her Academic Decathlon teams took first place in their region. She worked so hard with the students to reach those goals, and then the superintendent would complain that the World History classes had low test scores. The kids didn’t care about those tests. There were no grades assigned, no prizes given. No incentive. None for her to keep going, either. After 38 years, there was no increase in her income. She could make practically the same salary if she retired. No more students, no more papers, no more school politics. So Henry retired too.

    Kathleen wanted to travel some but not like Henry. She wanted to visit spas and stay in resorts. Cooking over a campfire did not appeal to her. Heck, she didn’t want to do any cooking. There were plenty of good restaurants in their neighborhood. Hanging off of a cliff, diving from an airplane, hiking on a hot trail…none of those were things she wanted to do. A poolside, a beach, maybe a tennis court. That was enough for Kathleen.

    The Baumgardners had managed to do their separate hobbies for a couple of years after retiring. Henry had a good friend, Charlie Frisbee, who liked to go along on Henry’s adventures so Kathleen didn’t feel too bad about saying she would stay home or was going with her friends to a plush resort. It gave them plenty to talk about when they reached home. Life was never boring around the Baumgardner house.

    Charlie had come over this year and helped dig up the backyard so Henry could plant twenty cucumber plants. The guys had come up with the idea of making their own pickles. Somehow they got into an argument on one of their camping trips about what made a good pickle, with Charlie saying his mother had the best recipe for pickles, and Henry saying you had to have the right cucumber. This year they planned to test their theories. Henry had been planning for weeks on how to make pickles from the bounty of cucumbers forming out there on those vines. Kathleen acted interested, but she had only heard a few words until they got the phone call from Charlie saying he was leaving for England.

    “Carrie just called. She and Burt have decided to get married and want us to come over for the ceremony. They’re only taking a couple of days, going to the registrar’s office, but Connie wants to be there.” Carrie was Charlie and Connie’s only child. She had lived and worked in London for nearly ten years, and would probably never return to the States. Especially now that she was marrying her long-time boyfriend, Burt Finfrickle, who was supposedly some sort of earl of something. He was an investment banker like Carrie but for a different firm. Charlie said all they ever talked about was foreign investments and money markets in other countries. He wasn’t too happy to be going, and especially right as the cucumbers were ready for pickling, but it was his only daughter and he didn’t want to miss this one chance to see her married. Besides, there would be no stopping Connie. She was going whether Charlie came or not.

    “Sorry to bug out on you like this, old guy,” which he always called Henry, “but we’ll try again next year.”

    “You go and have a good time. Give our best to Carrie and her young man. Tell him I said he better be really good to her.” Henry and Kathleen had known Carrie since she was a baby. She had attended the schools where they had taught. Henry knew that Kathleen would be disappointed to not be making the trip, too. The pickles, however, would not wait. He would make them himself. Maybe with Kathleen’s help.

    “I’m picking the cucumbers, tonight. Tomorrow I’m starting the pickling process. Do you want to help?”

    Kathleen looked up, sharply, at him from the book she had just started. “Me? You’re asking me to help with your pickles? Are you crazy?” She slowly lowered the newest Jennifer Weiner story, and waited. She hoped he would laugh and tell her it was just a joke.

    “It will be fun. You’ll see. I have this great recipe that Charlie got from his sister. I have all the ingredients lined up in the bottom cabinet. The jars have to be washed, but I’ll put them in the dishwasher tonight, and they’ll be ready in the morning. Then I’ll boil the brine, pack the jars, it will be all so easy.”

    “Then why do you need me?”

    “It’s just easier with two people doing the work. It gives us something to do together. You’re always saying we should do more things together.”

    “I meant traveling, not cooking.”

    “Canning.”

    “What?”

    “It’s called canning, Kathleen, not cooking.”

    They ended on that note. Kathleen picked up her book and read until bedtime; Henry worked more in the kitchen, starting the dishwasher, getting to bed later than usual. Now, he was up and banging around in the kitchen. She was sure he was being extra loud just to wake her up.

    Feeling a bit guilty about that conversation last night, Kathleen decided she would get up, pull on some shorts and a top, and without combing her hair or putting on makeup, go help Henry with his pickles. It wasn’t his fault that Charlie got called away. Those two, if Charlie was here, would be out there right now, laughing and having a good time canning pickles. She had to remember to not call it cooking.

    “Good morning, Henry, reporting for canning duty,” Kathleen cheerfully entered the kitchen. She was going to do this.

    “Guess I woke you, huh?”

    “It’s okay, I needed to be up so I could help you. Tell me what you want me to do.”

    Kathleen looked around the large, open kitchen that had been remodeled a few years earlier to provide more counter space. Today, every inch of it was taken up with cucumbers, pots, and jars. Pint jars were lined up on all the open counter space.

    “These are the jars you’re using? Aren’t they kind of small for all those cucumbers?”

    “We’re just giving people a taste of the pickles, not overwhelming them. Besides, I don’t know how good these will be and I would hate to give people a really big jar of something that they didn’t like.”

    “I’m starting to boil the liquid. Do you want to pack the cucumbers in the jars? Then I’ll pour in the boiling brine.”

    “You already got the brine mixed? How early did you get up?”

    “I got up around five thirty. I know this is a lot of work and I wanted to get started.”

    “Okay, let’s do this.”

    Henry and Kathleen worked together all morning. There were so many cucumbers that they ran out of jars. By noon, Kathleen was done. She had not only packed the jars but then put the lids and rings on each jar for Henry to put into the big canning pot. The completed full jars now sat on the counters, waiting for that reassuring POP. Not only was there a bucket of cucumbers sitting on the floor, but Henry knew that more cukes would be ready to pick tonight. He would have to buy more jars.

    “Thank you, Kathleen, for all the hard work. I know this isn’t your idea of fun.”

    “You’re welcome. Actually, it wasn’t so bad. I liked working with you. We make a good team.”

    Putting his arms around her, and drawing her in close, Henry answered, “Yes, we do.”

    They did the same process two more days, and by then, the ripe cucumbers were pretty much all gone and they had more pint jars of pickles than they knew what to do with. The Baumgardners nor the Frisbees had that many friends and family to dole out jars.

    Henry set aside two cases of pickles for Charlie to pick up when he returned from London. He started naming family members and friends to whom he would deliver the pickles. Kathleen stood there, in the kitchen, looking at those jars and realized what was missing.

    “You didn’t put a label on the jars, Henry. No one will know they are your pickles. I’m going to make up some labels. What do you want to call your pickles?”

    “I don’t know. Just Pickles is fine with me.”

    “No, let’s call them Mr. BGarden Pickles. Like the kids always called you at school and they couldn’t pronounce Baumgardner.”

    Kathleen rummaged around in her file cabinet and found some labels from when she was teaching and had labeled every file she had. She did a little scroll on top and Mr. BGarden Pickles in the center, using the software that came with the folders. Printed a page and tried out the labels on the jars. They looked really good so she printed some more, left the pages of labels with Henry to apply, picked up three jars of pickles and headed out to the neighbors so she could deliver them while she took her walk. That would get a few jars out of the house.

    Their house being a short distance from the corner, Kathleen turned left, towards the main intersection leading into their housing tract. Her plan was to go around the block, taking the jars to the three houses behind the Baumgardners. She and Henry had known those families for all the years they had lived in the neighborhood and she knew they would gladly accept her offering. As she neared the corner, though, she saw two little girls sitting at a table with an awning and some signs. They had set up a lemonade stand which made sense on this warm afternoon.

    “Hi, girls, what are you up to?”

    “We’re making money for school stuff, Mrs. B. Do you want some lemonade?”

    “Mmm, no, but how about I leave these three jars of pickles here for you to sell along with the lemonade. Mr. Baumgardner and I made them. Maybe someone would like some pickles to take home for dinner.”

    “Ok. How much you want for them,” Ally Crester asked.

    “You get whatever you can for them, Ally, and you can keep the money.”

    “Oooh, thanks, Mrs. B.”

    That was easy, Kathleen thought to herself. I’ll take my walk and then tomorrow I’ll take jars around the block. Maybe we can get rid of all those jars of pickles faster than I thought. And off she went.

    Rounding the corner, headed back home, Kathleen sees the girls on the next corner, at their fancy lemonade stand, jumping up and down, waving to her. Before she can get there, Ally has run ahead to meet her.

    “Mrs. B, do you have any more pickles we could sell?” She is so excited, she can hardly catch her breath.

    “Why, what happened to the jars I gave you? That was only an hour ago.”

    “We sold them and then one lady who bought a jar just came back and asked for another one but we didn’t have any so could you get us some more?”

    People actually bought those pickles, Kathleen is thinking to herself. They must have felt sorry for the girls and they were probably priced real low.

    “How much did you charge for the pickles?”

    “Five dollars a jar,” Ally said as she was quickly walking back to the table where there was a group of boys buying cups of lemonade.

    Her friend, Macy Armbruster, was working at a fevered pitch to take care of the customers, and that’s when Kathleen noticed the sign, Lemonade $1. These girls were not into sale prices.

    “Did we sell the pickles too cheap?”

    “Oh, no, I don’t think so,” Kathleen said, standing there in amazement at how industrious the girls were being.

    “Do you want some of the money we made?”

    “No! You keep the money just like I told you to.” Except, Kathleen was thinking, I figured it would be a dollar a jar, not five!

    “Do you have any more pickles for us to sell, Mrs. Baumgardner? We’ll share the money with you if you want. That one lady really wants another jar, and I know there are others who would buy the pickles if we had them.”

    My goodness, Kathleen thought, Ally is quite the sales person. Wait until I tell Henry.

    “Let me check with Mr. Baumgardner. They really are his pickles. I’ll bring another jar for the lady who wanted one, for sure.”

    Henry was banging around in the kitchen when Kathleen finally got back to the house. She saw a case of empty pickle jars sitting in the corner, by the sliding glass door.

    “What are those for?” Kathleen stood there, pointing at the jars.

    “Oh, I figured since there were still a few cukes out there, I might as well do another batch later this week.” Henry looked a little sheepish as he said this because he didn’t know if he could get Kathleen to help with one more batch.

    “Well, do I have a story for you. I left the three jars I took for the neighbors with the girls on the corner. They have a fancy lemonade stand set up and I figured they could get rid of the jars for us and make a little money for their school supplies. They not only sold the jars, in an hour, mind you, but they got five dollars for EACH jar. Then, one lady who bought a jar liked them so much, she came back and wanted another one. She must have opened the jar as soon as she got home. Who eats pickles like that?”

    Henry had stopped putting away the clean pans from the dishwasher and was standing there with his mouth open. Yes, who indeed liked pickles that well? Except for him and Charlie.

    “She wants another jar? For five dollars? They aren’t worth five dollars? Who are these little entrepreneurs we have living in the neighborhood?”

    “One is Ally Crester and the other little girl is Macy something. Cute as they can be so I figure that’s part of the appeal for their sales. But, they are charging high prices and no one seems to mind. There was a big group of boys buying cups of lemonade for a dollar when I was just there. The girls want to know if they can have some more jars and they’re even willing to share the money with us. Maybe this can be our new career.” And with that line, Kathleen started laughing. Who would have ever guessed that people would pay money for Henry’s pickles.

    “I bet it’s that cute label you put on them that made them so appealing. You know, people will pay for kitschy.”

    Kathleen rolled her eyes at that comment and then went to get three more jars of pickles to take to the girls. At this rate, maybe they would be rid of the pickles faster than she thought. But wait, didn’t Henry say something about another batch?

    The days flew by. Kathleen was busy getting ready to go to the Brubaker Spa in Santa Barbara with her friend, Nikki Sims. They were joining some other friends there who they had met on their travels to Palm Springs a few years ago. Each year this group of women would choose a newer spa and give it a try. Kathleen was really excited about the Brubaker as it was supposed to have an all raw diet she had heard so much about. She also had a stack of books she wanted to take as she planned to spend lots of time in the cabanas just off the private beach. The evenings would be full of conversation and laughter with her friends. She could hardly wait to tell them about Henry’s pickle making success. Charlie was back from the wedding and he and Henry were planning the next batch of pickles. She was glad she wouldn’t be around to see the mess they would make. Nor would she have to put all those lids and rings on the jars.

    “I’m going to miss my pickle assistant,” Henry said as he was hugging Kathleen and saying goodbye in their driveway. She was on her way to pick up Nikki and then they would be on the road.

    “You and Charlie will have a good time while I’m gone. Just don’t blow up the house.”

    When she got the phone call from Henry three days later, and could hear the excitement in his voice, those words came to mind.

    Her cell phone rang, late in the afternoon of their third and final day, while she was reclining on a chaise, under the blue tent, with the incoming surf lapping nearby. The days had been perfect, weather-wise, and Kathleen was very relaxed and feeling refreshed. Henry didn’t usually call her on these trips so when she saw his name on the screen, she felt a moment of panic. And then she heard his voice.

    “Kathleen, Kathleen, you will never guess what has happened.” She could almost see him jumping up and down with anticipation.

    “You didn’t blow up the house, did you?”

    “No,” he bellowed, “we’re famous. Or, our pickles are famous.”

    She hadn’t heard this much excitement in his voice since he had called her so many years ago to tell her he had been offered the principal-ship of the newest high school to be built in town.

    “Remember the lady who bought two jars of the pickles from the girls? She came to the door today, wanting to meet the gourmand pickle meisters. Those were her words. Gourmand. Who would’ve ever thought our pickles would be gourmand. Charlie was here so I told her it was his recipe and my cukes. She has a store over in Old Town, you know one of those fancy little places that sell kitschy stuff. See? I knew it was your label that would make us famous.”

    “Henry, slow down. What are you trying to tell me? Why would your pickles make you famous?”

    “Anna Marie, that’s her name, Anna Marie Zebrowski, wants to sell our pickles in her store. She wants an exclusive to them. We already gave her the next batch Charlie and I made while you were gone. She’s going to sell them for eight dollars a jar. Can you believe it? She’ll pay us three dollars for every jar she sells. We’re going to be famous.”

    I’m gone three days and Henry becomes famous? How did this happen? And with all things, pickles! He is an expert educator, a leader in school administration. Not a pickle meister. What kind of nonsense is this woman peddling?

    “Okay, okay, I’ll be home tomorrow and we’ll sit down and talk about this. You don’t even know how much it costs to make these pickles. Three dollars could be a losing proposition. Besides, I don’t think you can just make pickles in your kitchen and sell them. There are some rules about food.”

    “But Kathleen, Anna Marie raved about how good the pickles were and how people want homemade condiments but want them to be gourmand. She kept using that word. She’s a successful business woman. She knows about these things.”

    “Henry, I love you dearly, and I will see you tomorrow afternoon. Don’t make any more pickles till I get home.”

    “Oh, I can’t. We ran out of those kitschy Mr. BGarden labels you made.”

    The fall season was starting and plans had to be made as well as routine appointments and chores to take care of so the pickles did go on the back burner in the Baumgardner’s life. Charlie and Henry wanted to watch their baseball team win the World Series. College football games started taking them away on Saturdays. A ski trip was planned for Christmas vacation. Kathleen’s women’s club had a big charity event every October and she was chair of the decorating committee. There were more important things to think about than pickle labels.

    One afternoon, as Kathleen was packing candles and table runners into her car, a very attractive woman drove up in a Mercedes SUV.

    “Who is this?” Kathleen wondered.

    “Good afternoon, you must be Henry’s wife. I’m Anna Marie Zebrowski. I’m sure Henry has told you all about our pickle agreement.”

    “Oh, well, yes, but I had almost forgotten about it. We’ve been busy with other things. Henry has even pulled out all the cucumber plants. It was really just a summer hobby for him and his friend, Charlie.”

    Kathleen was very wary of this woman who was dressed as if going to work on Wall Street. Gray plaid suit, silk blouse, five inch stillettos in bright red, hair perfectly coifed. Kathleen felt very out of place with her denim jeans and old t-shirt. She was dressed to set up tables, not negotiate pickle deals.

    “I’m sorry, but I’m really in a hurry to get to another job and Henry isn’t here right now.”

    “It’s okay. I just wanted to tell Henry that our deal is off. The last case of pickles I got a few weeks ago were just not as good as those first jars. I can’t sell them. Especially for the price we had originally agreed upon.”

    “Ah, I see. I’ll let Henry know. He’s going to be very disappointed, but I didn’t think he would be able to keep you furnished with pickles. As I said, it was just a summer hobby.”

    “The first jars were excellent, and I think your husband has a good recipe. I want to buy the recipe from him and have someone else make the pickles. Can you have him call me to set up a sales price?” She handed Kathleen her card, turned on those high heels, and returned to her car.

    Kathleen got home late from her decorating and found Henry sitting at the kitchen counter, tapping Anna Marie’s card, right where she had left it with a note about rejection of the last batch of pickles. She was sorry she hadn’t been there when he got home.

    Putting her arm around his shoulder, pulling him close to her, she said, “I’m sorry about the pickles. I know how much you wanted to be famous.”

    Henry shifted on the stool to look at her. “What are you talking about? The pickles are still going to be famous. Mr. BGarden Pickles are going to be made by a food company. Charlie and I are selling the recipe to Anna Marie.”

    Startled, Kathleen stepped back. She remembered Anna Marie Zebrowski saying that as she left, but did she really mean it? Wasn’t Henry sad that he wouldn’t be the one making the pickles?

    “But they won’t be YOUR pickles. You won’t be making them.”

    “That’s okay with me. Making pickles is hard work. One batch was fun, and especially the ones you and I made. We had a good time doing it. Charlie and I didn’t have as much fun. It was more like work than a hobby by the time we made that last batch. I think that’s why they weren’t as good as the ones you and I made. I think it was your special touch that made them taste so good.”

    Kathleen was flattered to get the credit for the good pickles, but she knew how excited Henry had been when he thought he was going to make pickles for Anna Marie. What was that he had said about still being famous?

    “You’re going to sell the recipe?”

    “That’s the best part,” Henry stands up and comes around to where Kathleen is standing. He takes her in his arms, hugging her close. “Anna Marie is paying us $20,000 for the recipe.”

    Kathleen pulls back, looks up at Henry in shock, and says, “What did you say? I thought I heard $20,000. Who pays $20,000 for a pickle recipe?”

    “Anna Marie Zebrowski does. She has some food manufacturer in town that will make Mr. BGardens pickles, just like we did, even with the fancy label. She says that she knows she can tweak the recipe to get the same flavor in each batch and that the pickles will be famous. But, Charlie and I must sign over all rights. That’s why we are getting so much money. Pretty cool, huh?”

    “I guess. Have you told Charlie?”

    “Yeah, just got off the phone with him before you walked in. We were arguing about whether it was the cucumbers or the recipe. I guess we still didn’t solve that mystery. Anyway, we’re going to share the money, and I figured since you were such a big part of the success, you should get a share, too. Charlie agreed. It’s not like we need the money, but it’s the recognition that makes us feel good. So, we decided to split the money three ways.”

    “Oh, Henry,” Kathleen hugs him tighter, “that is so sweet of you, but you know I didn’t want to even be involved. It was only because Charlie wasn’t going to be here that I stepped in.”

    “Charlie and I said the same thing. We would have just had a bunch of jars of pickles sitting here if it hadn’t been for you. You came up with the name, you made the labels, and you gave the jars to the girls who sold one to Anna Marie. It was your magic touch that made us famous.”

    Shaking her head and laughing, Kathleen could hardly believe how this had all turned out. Then Henry surprised her one more time that evening.

    “What do you say we take our shares of the money, find a place in Tuscany, and go there next fall? You’ve always talked about going to Tuscany, and this money gives us the chance to really do it up in a big way. We could rent a farmhouse and stay a couple of months.”

    “That would be wonderful, Henry.” Kathleen twirls around the room, smiling, laughing. “Who knows, maybe we could even can something while we’re there.”



    This story was inspired by two dear friends who did can pickles this summer. That photo up there is of one of those jars. The rest of the story is pure fantasy.
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