" Carolyn--- I've gone to Our Store. Be back soon. Love, Scott"

With that brief message she knew exactly where I was. She knew what I was doing. And she knew it would take me longer than expected to get back.

I was at Home Depot. "Our Store" for all those who are working on their houses and one of the nations' fastest growing retail chains. According to Value Line the chain has a 5 year sales and earnings growth rate of more than 40 percent. Robinson-Humphrey analyst Dan R. Wewer, Jr., an unabashed Home Depot bull, estimates their growth for the next 5 years at 35 percent annually.

This company is the hottest of the hot. Even now, with anxious investors preferring cash to shares, the stock sells at $30, down from its high of $43. The shares still have a price earnings multiple of 26, nearly TWICE the PE of the average stock. It also sports a princely price to book value multiple over 4.

Intimidating multiples not withstanding, Home Depot has become an institutional darling. According to Computer Directions Advisors institutional ownership has zoomed from 120 managers at the end of 1987 to 245 by the end of June this year.

Why? Home Depot has been identified as "the next Wal-Mart".

Should you buy shares?

I don't know. That's not what this column is about.

Instead, I want to suggest an alternative that will be good for your spirit.

Visit Home Depot.

It will make you feel good. It will tell you something very good about America. Not the America of "the good old days". Not the America of decline and defeat. Not Pig Nation. Not the America of status striving, excess and anxiety.

Home Depot will tell you about the real America. The America that still works hard, hopes hard, and tries to make things better, project by project, improvement by improvement, and step by step.

Walk up and down the aisles. Look at how much is offered. Recognize, as you must, the marketing genius shown here. But then pause long enough to appreciate the genius at DOING that must exist to make that marketing work.

I will confess to you, right now, that I like buildings and houses more than most people. I like the musk of concrete, the sap of pine, and the sweet, reluctant heat of table saws. When I was in my early twenties I hauled wire lath and other materials for the buildings I worked on in a decrepit Volkswagen convertible. I also purchased and repurchased my Skill-saw from pawn shops in the South End of Boston, inhaled a lifetime supply of plaster dust from the frenzied removal of old walls, and once devoted several months to finding a loft with a freight elevator large enough to use as a living room.

As I said, I like buildings more than most people.

But I am not handy. I am a klutz. Ask my children. I admire the people who can lay carpet, who install cabinets, who run wires, install sheetrock, roll paint, and a zillion other things because I know most of them can work me into the ground and do a better job. I know I am best with a broom and checkbook. I know that if something isn't COMPLETE shortly after I imagine it, I get frustrated, a condition that is mutually exclusive with doing most of what needs to be done on a house.

And that is what is so impressive about Home Depot. There, under one roof, you can find everything you need to plan and complete anything to do with homes. You can frame, you can roof, you can install plumbing, you can wire or rewire, you can add lights or fans, you can build furniture, you can improve your landscaping, add a home security system, or just change your old door knobs.

None of that would work if you and I, collectively, did not represent an enormous reservoir of skill. Where else in the world could you gather all these choices of things, let alone know that you could sell it all to the general public, Mr. and Mrs. Everybody, and turn the inventory 6 times a year?

Only in America.