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          What’s a Gophicula?

By Don Urbanus

     It was a warm autumn day with fall hanging onto summer’s tailcoats, refusing to give in to the eventual winter. Halloween was right around the corner but sales at the nursery were still pretty good. People were trying to finish some of their outdoor projects while the weather was still nice. I put the phone down as an elderly lady with gray grizzled hair hobbled in with a brown paper bag in one hand and a cane in the other.
     “Hello, my name is Mrs. Meyers. I was told I should see the owner. Are you the owner young man?” she asked in a wavery voice.
     “I’m Don, I’m the owner. Is there something I can help you with?” I asked.
     She pursed her lips. “Do you know your stuff? The last nursery I was in didn’t have a clue,” she said sharply, eying me cautiously.
     “Why don’t you let me see what you have? Maybe I can help.” I smiled at her and reached for the bag. She held back and then slowly, reluctantly, she handed me the bag.
I gazed inside the bag and pulled out what looked like tomato but it was all white. Also in the bag was a white carrot with white leaves and medium-sized zucchini, also white. I frowned and looked over at her.
     “You don’t know what it is causing this, do you? Nobody does,” she challenged me.
     “Well,” I laughed nervously, “first, I need to ask you a few questions.”
     “Such as?”
     “Are these the only things in your garden that are white like this or are there more? Maybe it is just some genetic mutation or some kind of deficiency,” I offered.
     “You ninny, my whole garden is like this,” she snapped impatiently, “Do you think I would come all this way just to tell you about a white carrot or two?”
     I tried to ignore her name-calling and continued with my questions. “Have you changed your fertilizers or sprayed the plants with anything?”
     “Of course not,” she sighed, “Can’t you see? This was done by an animal. Look at the bite marks on this carrot,” she said, pointing with her cane.
     I looked carefully at the vegetables and now I could see a couple of puncture marks on each one. But this was ridiculous.  “How did that turn white from an animal?”
     “You big dope,” she said, getting more and more irritated with me, “I know what did it. I want to know how to kill the darn thing.”
     Feeling a little lost, I asked her innocently, “Kill what?”
     “Why the Gophicula, of course! It’s burrowing around and sucking all the green out of my plants.”
     “What’s a Gophicula? You mean, a gopher did this?” I asked slowly.
     “No, you dummy, I said a Gophicula. Don’t they teach you anything at those schools anymore?”
     “Maybe I missed that part. So what does this Gophicula look like exactly?” I asked.
     She held up two fingers like they were fangs and kind of hissed. I looked at her blankly and scratched my head. I was starting to get a little irritated with this little old lady. First she was calling me names and then questioning my horticultural knowledge and finally coming up with some insane reason for why all these plants were white. I thought I would just give her the old gopher routine about traps and bait and how with diligence, anyone can rid their yard of even the peskiest gophers.
     “And don’t go telling me I need traps. I have dozens of traps. You can’t kill a Gophicula with traps or bait,” she said, beating me to the punch.
     “Let me get this straight,” I paused and rubbed my chin. “This is a sort of gopher with fangs that sucks the color out of all the plants and vegetables and leaves two puncture marks wherever it sucks on the plants. Correct?”
     “That’s right,” she answered, relieved that I was finally catching on.
     Obviously this was some elaborate Halloween joke and my employees had put her up to it. Well, I could play along. “Well, of course, traps won’t work,” I said reassuringly. “There is only one thing that will kill a Gophicula and that is a wooden stake right through the heart. They hate garlic, of course, but it just discourages them, it won’t actually kill them. Since gophers, I mean, Gophiculas don’t like light, I would suggest trying to kill them at night, when they are active. We happen to sell all kinds of stakes. I suggest a lodge pole, that way you can get him and you won’t even have to bend over.”
     She frowned looking down and then back up at me. “Isn’t that dangerous? Couldn’t the Gophicula……I mean, what if he bites me?”
     “Nonsense,” I said, waving my hand, “Gophiculas are only dangerous to plants. Take it from me, Mrs. Meyers. And after you get rid of your Gophicula, put garlic in the holes and it will keep other Gophiculas out.”
     “Well,” she said, finally smiling, “I’m glad I came here. I had my doubts about you but you certainly make sense. I’ll take one stake.”
     “Do you need some garlic too?” I asked, walking over to the garlic cloves.
     “Oh, yes, thank you, I almost forgot.”
     I handed her a bag and while she was busy, went and got a nice straight lodge pole. She thanked me and told me how very helpful I had been. I sent her on her way and wished her luck. As she drove off I threw her bag of white vegetables in the trash and went out to help another customer. White vegetables! Gophiculas! Give me a break.
     I had pretty much forgotten about Mrs. Meyers when she came in suddenly around closing time the day after Halloween. It was getting dark. The time had changed and it was an hour later than it had been. She had on dark sunglasses and her hand was bandaged but I noticed she looked different somehow. Her hair appeared to be completely white and her face seemed smoother and more youthful.
     “Mrs. Meyers?”
     “Oh, Don, I want to thank you for all your help the other day.”  She grabbed my hand and held on.
     I noticed she wasn’t carrying her cane and she had on tight black spandex pants. And then I remembered - there was no waver to her voice.
     "You are Mrs. Meyers?”
     “Oh, yes,” she said huskily with her lips slightly parted. “I wasn’t feeling quite myself the other day. Now I feel so much better.”
     “That’s nice. No more problems with the gophers, I mean, the Gophiculas?” I asked, trying to pull my hand away.  Her grip was amazingly strong.
     “The what? Oh, no, not at all, in fact, just the opposite. I was just wondering,” she sighed helplessly, “You have been such a big help and I would love to have you for dinner.” She paused and then said quickly, “You know, to show my appreciation.” She stared at me and smiled hungrily.
     “I….I don’t…….I don’t have time for, for that kind of stuff,” I said uneasily yanking my hand out of her grip.  I looked around for the other employees. Where did everyone go? Nobody is ever around when you need them. “I…uh….have a lot of work to do at home.”
     Mrs. Meyers gazed at me critically, her lips in a tight pout, then without a word she turned and walked out of the store. I heaved a big sigh. Some customers can be very strange. Just as suddenly the employees walked into the store. I felt strangely relieved.
     “Are you still here, Don?” asked Denise, “I thought you left.”
     “No, I was helping that lady,” I said.
     “What lady? We didn’t see any lady.” Judy said, as she started counting checks.
     “You know that lady that…” I started to say, “Oh, never mind. By the way, where is George?  Did he leave already?”
     “George? Oh, he said something about a hot date and a free meal. He just left.” Denise answered, “Is something wrong?”
     I was quiet and thoughtful for a moment. “Judy?” I asked, “You know that garlic you were going to re-order? Why don’t you double it. No, triple it. I have a feeling we’re going to be selling a lot of garlic pretty soon.”



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