Of course, that wasn’t her real name, but folks had come to call her that. It was meant to be a term of derision, merited by the condition of her yard. The place was awash in azaleas gone wild. These shrubs covered every square inch of her property, even pushing under the lower shingles of her home. Pink azaleas poked through her peeling picket fence, onto the sidewalk. Red azaleas were in majority, spreading all the way into the woods behind her yard. Lavender petals showed themselves randomly here and there, with white azaleas forming a perimeter on the east boundary line.
By Richard McCusker (Rmrickmack@aol.com)
Honeysuckle Henderson had the most colorful and tacky landscaping in town. Without a blade of grass to mow, her yard required no tending. Azaleas were independent shrubs, satisfied to thrive on normal rainfall and never needing pruning. That is, if you didn’t mind living in a shrub jungle. The temperatures in this Florida town were well suited for azaleas, and for eccentric women like Honeysuckle. Neighbors on both sides complained of allergies caused by the proliferation of azaleas, especially in the spring. Of course, most of the year was springlike in that area of the Sunshine State, and the scent of azaleas wafted through the air continually.
Walter Breetheezy, the local pharmacist, had a thriving business, thanks mainly to Honeysuckle Henderson. Coughing and wheezing customers knew the products on his shelves by heart, trying one after another for relief that never came. Walter’s brother owned a printing press, and the two of them had conspired to prepare new and different labels on their own. If a product failed to move quickly, the label was removed and one that nobody ever heard of was affixed in its place. The funny thing was that some people, who had been taking the identical remedy with no success, often swore they got results with the “new” brand. This brought another money saving approach to Walter’s mind. Gradually, he changed the inventory on his cold and allergy shelves to one that filled every container with pure water, with varying food colorings added, along with a few drops of either spearmint, cinnamon, sugar, of some other taste changing ingredient.
Honeysuckle, herself, had no need for allergy medicine. The smell of azaleas was so pleasant to her olfactory nerves that the first thing she would do on rising each day was to throw open her bedroom window and breath deeply of the heady fragrance. She simply couldn’t understand why her neighbors were offended by the wonderful scent. When she visited the pharmacy to buy the Sunday newspaper each week, Walter attended to her personally, always remarking about how lovely her yard looked. He never failed to make disparaging remarks about her finicky neighbors, dismissing them as “cranks”. After all, Honeysuckle Henderson was his “golden egg laying goose”, so to speak.
Walter realized that his position as pharmacist was a most lucrative one. There was a fortune to be made selling water from his kitchen faucet. With the juices of entrpreneurship flowing through his veins, he knew no bounds. He began to dilute the contents of many of his liquid products. He poured water into bleach and laundry detergents, into floor and furnish polish, into just about everything that would hold water. He mastered a method of resealing these products, leaving no clue that they’d been altered. He acquired identical containers, into which he poured the increased products for more profitable sales.
Then, came the night of the fire. The Henderson place burned to the ground, flames spreading throughout the yard, taking with them every viable azalea shrub. The smoke carried the scent of azaleas for miles. People were choking in their beds by the time dawn broke. Opening the front door to his pharmacy, Walter was engulfed by a relief-seeking mob of folks in respiratory distress. People rushed to the allergy aisle, scooping bottles from the shelves, along with inhalers, paper masks and fancy respirators. Water was to make Walter rich that day, but his greed couldn’t be sated.
Walter was concerned for his future, realizing that there would no longer be azalea allergies driving people into his pharmacy. Watching the buying frenzy, he had the craziest idea yet. “What if,” he wondered. “What if I could actually sell water? What if I bottled regular water and sold it for drinking?”
Once things settled down in town, and fresh air blew in from the mountains, Walter began in earnest to make plans. Of course, it would require some filtration before he could sell tap water. It would be a simple thing for him to filter out unwanted chemicals like chlorine and flouride to provide a flat taste. He smiled with the realization that those chemicals were actually added to water as a good thing, but people could be so easily fooled. The lack of taste in water, he would capitalize on, claiming his water was special and healthier than that supplied from the reservoir in the hills.
And so, bottled water became Walter Breetheezy’s claim to fame and fortune. As incredible as it seems, he was able to convince people that returning water to its tasteless form would be good for them. Nobody seemed to question the fact that removing these same chemicals at the reservoir’s treatment plant would have accomplished an identical goal, while saving them the cost of Walter’s bottled water. Walter named his bottled water Honeysuckle Springs, a name now known thoughout the world, stocked on shelves in supermarkets, gas stations, convenience stores and pharmacies.
It’s not widely known, but Walter Breetheezy’s father was the fellow who made a small fortune selling pet rocks decades earlier.