Thursday, June 18, 2009

Lemonade Stand

When the weather got hot, when I was between the ages of six and nine and my family lived in Chicago, my mom would kindle the entrepreneurial spirit and set us to work in the kitchen. We'd cream sugar and butter; add eggs, vanilla, flour, baking powder; we'd overdose the chocolate chips and spread the batter in a pan. I remember the smell of gooey bar cookies fresh from the oven, chocolate still shiny with heat. We'd do a taste test for quality control. We'd get a giant pitcher, fill it with cold water and scoops of Country Time Lemonade mix, stir well. We'd take the lot of it, along with an antique ice-cream table and chair set (wood table top and seats, iron legs and backs), and head across the street from our apartment on Lake View, into Lincoln Park. We'd set up at a sidewalk intersection, where people came frequently in and out of the park, and do a brisk business in lemonade and cookies. I remember the Dixie cups, the repeat customers (especially joggers, hot and sweaty, thirsty and happy to feed a child's kitty. I don't remember how much we sold these treats for—it was the mid-1970s, so it couldn't have been much: a dime a cup? a quarter a cookie?—and I don't remember how much money was made. I do recall that what we earned, I was allowed to keep. And I know that it gave me a feeling of efficacy, of power, that I didn't have before. It was a rite of passage the first time we did this, and it also became an annual tradition during those Chicago years. Now, in an adult world with financial problems deeper than can possibly be fixed with zesty citrus ade and chewy chocolate cookies, I hold even more tightly to these memories and to the simple fact that they were allowed to develop—memories shaped by the hand of a patient parent who looked for ways to stir life skills into the carefree days of childhood. Now, thanks to those summer days with my mother, when life gives me lemons . . . I know what I am supposed to do with them.

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