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My weakness for the roadside stand
I was out on my bike the other day, a joyride over to a bookstore in the northern part of Wheaton, a suburb west of Chicago. I turned the corner from a busy street and in the residential road were two young girls, maybe 10 years old, jumping in the air, waving their hands at me and a passing car.
I waved and said, “Get you on the way back.”
They looked defeated. And that’s all it took.
I turned the bike around, kicked the stand, threw my leg over my seat, and stepped up to the card table, set up along the sidewalk. A handwritten sign taped to the front of it read, Fresh Lemonade. $1.
“Do you take a debit card?”
The two girls, excited and alert, looked at one another as if I had spoken in a foreign language.
“Just kidding,” I said. “I have one dollar in my wallet. So, let’s do this".”
The lemonade was pretty bad—watered down, kind of powdery, made from a grainy mix of some sort. But that did not matter. I had arrived at yet another summer lemonade stand and I was quite happy about it.
Kid-run lemonade stands are rather rare these days, it seems. There are likely a lot of reasons for that. But when I see one, I always, and I do mean I always stop. I never really thought much about why those stands are such magnets for me. That is until recently when I took some time to truly consider it.
My attraction to lemonade stands is nostalgic, linked to an old memory that had rarely surfaced. It’s a memory that had been hidden in the folds of my brain, not fully manifesting even when I would see children standing in the road waving me down. It took me to step away from the present day to remember the past.
I was maybe 8 or 9 years old. My mother helped me mix up lemonade, real lemonade with real lemons and sugar in a large plastic pitcher. She had Dixie cups I could offer, a cigar box to secure the transactions, and an old brown card table with a wobbly leg. I set up the stand at the top of the hill of the street were we lived on. From that point on, the road tumbled and rolled down toward a large, wooded area where construction workers had been building new homes and extending the street.
I was as ready as a boy could be. A few nickels and dimes for change, and a sign fashioned to the front of the table and another on the side. I was charging a quarter a cup. My mother suggested that was a good price, easy for the customer to produce a single coin, little calculations to be made, if any.
Proud and prepared, I waited. And waited. Cars passed. One after another. I waited some more. And waited still. No one stopped. No one bought. It felt like hours had passed.
Across the street, a few of the older boys were hanging out near a grove of trees, climbing the branches, and reaching for wild cherries. One of them called from high above.
“No one cares about your lemonade, you know.”
“Stupid lemonade stand.”
I waited, still. It was hard to persevere.
But in what seemed like only a minute or two, everything changed.
Three big trucks, carrying workers from the home construction underway at the bottom of the hill, rumbled along the road from my left, traveling one after the other toward me. A half-a-block away, I heard the trucks’ brakes, a squeal and clunk. One stopped and then the other two. And out of the cabin and the payload area came three, no five, no eight men in dirty white t-shirts, jeans or khakis, big clunky boots.
“How much you got there, kid?”
I could not speak.
“You got some customers here.”
The men lined up at the stand, and I poured one cup and another and another and another of the lemonade. They drank it all. Every bit.
“Not sure how much we had there, but here, this should be okay.”
He handed me a five-dollar bill.
“Will you be here tomorrow? ‘Cause we will.”
I still could not speak and found only the courage to nod.
Across the street, the older boys were still in the trees. They saw it all, and not a word was said. As I packed up my stand, the pitcher, and my signs, I looked up to the high branches, smiled, and gave them a little salute before I headed home with my loot.
The next day when I was setting up the stand again, one of the boys asked if he could be my partner. “Nah,” I said. “I think I can handle it.”
I don’t remember if the workers came back. I like to think they did. And I’m not sure how I spent that $5, but I’m certain it was on something I really, really wanted.
And today, I’m again keeping an eye out for another lemonade stand.