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The Spice of Life

The Covid pandemic contracted the economy, but the world's small business owners brought the world back to life.

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Apple Spice Box Original Headquarters

While COVID-19 accounted for 377,883 deaths in the United States in 2020, exactly 3,358,814 people actually died. This roughly 8.9 percent of the population dominated the 24 news cycles as we watched them quarantined and ventilated and acutely cared for in overcrowded ICU’s across America.

While the pandemic obscured the larger mortality rate, it shouldn’t be forgiven for eclipsing the nation’s care or economy. Heart disease was the leading cause of death in 2020 (690,882) followed by cancer (598,932). According to the World Health Organization “COVID-19 continues to disrupt essential health and human services in 90% of countries throughout the world.” Yet the impact of the pandemic on the U.S. GDP was particularly debilitating. According to the Brooking Institute, the United States economy contracted by 3.5 percent in 2020 and was resuscitated only by consumer spending and its cornerstone — The American Small Business.

Spice of Life

“The great change in America,” President Ronald Reagan once said, “begins around the dinner table.” It’s the practical center for teaching and practicing not just table manners but communication, tolerance, consideration, and the long-lost art of conversation.

Apple Spice Box — The Premier Box Lunch Delivery & Catering Service — understood precisely this when they opened their doors in 1988. Founders Wayne Curtis and Randy Clegg rented a storefront from 88-year-old Fritz Haertel; whose once thriving bakery was downsizing into a modern world. Old style bakeries were being replaced by modern supermarkets, but instead of shuttering the store altogether he looked to and partnered with the future.

During the early days, Haertel would linger around the ovens and mixing bowls of the new coop called Apple Spice Box; offing suggestions on the art of baking bread and imparting other culinary wisdom. In addition to the practical baking techniques, Fritz was inadvertently teaching the young entrepreneurs the value of personal service.

During the last 30 years, Apple Spice Box has grown from its original location to a nationwide company of nearly 50 stores that dares to take good old fashioned fresh baked goods to businesses, meetings and events across America. If Christ fed 5000 with just 5 loaves of bread, perhaps Curtis, Clegg, and the Rye King were on to something, too.

The Feast

That women live longer than men is a quantifiable fact, and calls upon our fairer sex to be therefore strong. They’re the arbiters of the spirit in every home, and as Jane Austin once opined “we women love longest, even when all hope is gone.”

The diagnosis came like a thief in the night. “It’s an aggressive cancer that begins in the cells which support the nerves,” according to the American Medical Association, but despite maximum treatment always seems to recur. From the time of diagnosis, Glioblastoma can set the egg timer on life expectancy and the clock is always ticking. However, legacy is reductive and like a good recipe we tend to be remembered for one special ingredient. Getting in front of that message needs to come well before the bell.

There is no relationship between death and dying. One you control the other you concede. Yet both require perspective about reality and beyond and she lived as she loved — as though he were dying. Their blended family saw five children grow from teens to adults, and her remedy for sickness was always hard work. Like an antiquated bakery consigned to the annals of yesteryear, she tended his garden spot in their upscale suburban neighborhood not because gardens became fashionable during the COVID era, nor out of financial necessity, but rather because gardening was a metaphor for life, a symbol of their spiritual path, and because he loved, abandonley loved the garden.

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Photograph by Candace Simpson

Every creature yearns to be seen, understood and appreciated — and she was determined to meet each and every child where they were. “We all have an 80/20 in us,” she says, “and no person or particular can be perfect 100% of the time. Fussing over someone with a garden ripe tomato, or a fresh baked loaf of bread, is quite unlike a click in our e-commerce world.” The effort itself, no matter how small, has become the new commodity.

Death comes for us all, and even caregivers who courageously walk alongside the sick, afflicted or convalescing will admit that passing is always a surprise. Those with outward courage dare to live, while those with an inner courage are determined to live well. “Right the wrongs, eliminate the regrets, and live each day as though it were your last,” she says, of a lifecycle she now knows comes with seasons. While they fulfill the measure of every year, they’re also a metaphor for life and living. “To sow is a life’s work,” she says, of Apple Spice Box’s enviable legacy with 50 stores in 22 states. As to the harvest… they’ll demur instead to the universe and her objective wisdom for their reward.

For Wayne Curtis

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