UNEQUIVOCALLY VALUABLE TO SOMEBODY ELSE
On the way home from work on a summer afternoon, I pulled over to do business with a group of young entrepreneurs who had set up their temporary enterprise not far from our house. On the edge of a forest preserve and in the shadow of towering Douglas firs, four excited little girls dispensed lemonade in plastic cups, along with home-baked cookies contributed by their moms. They appeared to range in age from seven to about twelve, and the two younger girls waved at passing motorists to call attention to the colorful, hand-lettered cardboard signs on three sides of the card-table that comprised their base of operations. The older children sat on folding chairs, handling customers, emphasizing the difference between a small cup for fifty cents and a large cup for just a quarter more. They collected their money in a shoe box and the presence of numerous dollar bills along with all the quarters and dimes suggested a productive and successful day of work.
As I completed my transaction and sipped at the ice-cold refreshment I told the budding capitalists that I used to run my own lemonade stands when I was a kid, and so did our three children when they were younger. To my disappointment, the girls didn’t seem to hear me: they were already concentrating on other customers who’d been waiting their turn and in any event they seemed so thrilled with their afternoon’s endeavor that they probably preferred to believe that they had personally invented the street corner lemonade business. To them, the experience seemed fresh and exciting rather than timeless and nostalgic.
Nevertheless, they almost certainly shared some of the common characteristics of youthful lemonade vendors of prior generations. For one thing, the children who participate in this neighborhood rite seldom focus on the money they produce. I’m proud to say that our daughters always designated all proceeds to charity, selecting various causes that benefited “cancer kids.” The enjoyment of the process never stems from the coins or bills collected in the shoe box but from the genial, generous connections with friends, neighbors and even strangers. When you give a cold drink to a passing patron and he hands you money in return, it’s an indication that an adult is taking you seriously, transacting business as an equal.