Among the usual amalgam of notepads, refrigerator magnets, ballpoint pens and plastic business card holders that share space with trade show registration materials, one item stood out in a recent packet.

The vegetable seed catalog was a hit. Although it may have been even more appealing in late January, the glossy, colorful images of watermelons, sweet corn and ruby-red tomatoes that seem to ooze juice off the pages, captures my imagination.

I can visualize a trellis of pole beans in my back yard with a row of Clemson Spineless okra standing erect and proud in front of it. A Sugar Baby watermelon vine or two writhes around the legs of my decorative bench, and planter boxes of tomatoes and various peppers line one garden wall.

Summer squash add splotches of yellow to the verdant green of my imaginary back yard.

Imaginary? Ha, it's a total dream. My yard is a postage stamp. I had to cram seven ceramic pots into a 10-foot space along my only expanse of sunlit fence just to get a handful of tomatoes and enough peppers to put into a small, decorative bottle, which I'll look at all winter and marvel at my gardening ability.

I'd till the front yard but my wife contends that growing sweet corn and pole beans in front of a suburban dwelling is a dead giveaway that tacky people are in residence.

So I dream and tuck a pot here, a planter box there and appreciate every small salad I enjoy from the effort.

And I read these catalogs, which bring back fond memories. When I was just a boy, my brother and I sold seed, ordered from a catalog and delivered in brightly covered packages. Most everyone in our rural community grew a garden, so we thought we'd develop a pretty lucrative business, just selling to neighbors. My dad bought a bunch of stuff. We could get Edisto cantaloupes, his favorite, and Florida Giant watermelons, huge, bright green melons as round as a basketball and about twice as big. Other neighbors bought some Congo melons, a few packets of green beans, speckled butterbeans (still my favorite), and quite a bit of sweet corn.

For all that merchandising, door-to-door canvassing with a little post-church service sales, we earned valuable prizes.

The catalog company didn't pay in cash, you see. Instead, they had a list of good stuff you could order if you sold enough seed packets. My brother ordered a camera that stood up through one whole roll of film.

I, being more pragmatic and practical minded, ordered a bow and arrows, assuming I could continue doing business into the winter by killing rabbits and selling them to local groceries.

It could have worked, too, but my mom took the bow and arrows away from me after I shot my brother in the butt.

And, as it turned out, all the corn, beans, melons and tomatoes that our dad planted, had to be weeded, picked and shelled. It's absolutely true.

No good deed will go unpunished.

rsmith@primediabusiness.com