Wednesday, July 18, 2012 • 3:06pm
What the U.S. needs is a good two-cent glass of lemonade. In an attempt to be a good guy I learned once again that no good deed goes unpunished.
As I drove down the street where I live, I saw two cute little girls and their improvised lemonade stand standing by the curb. Not knowing that these sweet looking little girls were rampaging capitalists who would make Jamie Dimon
look like a philanthropists, I stopped the car, opened the window, and cheerily shouted that I was very thirsty as I got out of the car.
I walked toward the stand and was enjoying this heartwarming scene of summertime Americana. The little table on which the girls colored and cut out paper dolls was perched by the curb. It held the usual plate of cookies and pitcher of green-tinted, reconstituted powdered lemonade. The girls were grinning from ear to ear, probably (I was soon to learn) in expectation of fleecing me. It was then that I saw the sign saying Lemonade and Cookies -- 50 cents
each! My inner reaction was "WHAT?"
I was stuck. I had passed the point of no return. I HAD to buy something! Meanwhile, my sense of the value of money was pounding away at me like a jackhammer. What should I say to the kids? "Your price is too high, I'll give you
a quarter for both." Naah. They wouldn't understand haggling. How about "Gee that is awfully expensive; I think I will pass." No again. When their Dad hears about it the entire neighborhood will brand me a cheapskate and complainer.
So, I looked into my wallet. I was lucky. I asked the kids, "Got change for a fifty dollar bill?" Of course they didn't. One of them said, "Mister, you can pay us later." Oh my God! That would be worse than a new credit card! If I didn't
pay promptly, would their Mom be calling me at 9 am on Sunday morning to collect the debt? So, I dutifully went back to my car, fished around in what used to be the ash tray and came up with four dimes and two nickels. "Here" I said wryly, "I'll take one of those 'delicious' looking cookies. I am not thirsty anyway."
The kid was quite pleased with herself as she carefully counted the money to make sure I gave her the correct amount and put it into her little cash drawer. Then she gave me a soggy pinwheel cookie that could only have come from one of those tubes you buy at the supermarket dairy counter. Two bites and it was done!
As I left this little pirate's lair, I wondered how she arrived at 50 cents for a four ounce glass of lemonade and another 50 cents for a soggy cookie. Did she think that was a lot of money or a small amount? Did she have any idea of the buying power of a buck? What kind of allowance does she get -- 10 dollars a week? 20 dollars? Maybe 30?
I remember how my mother would make me roll my eyes as a boy when she recalled the price of things when she was a girl. I find myself doing the same thing today. I remember when Lifesavers, chewing gum and Coca Cola were five cents each. Chickens cost 11 cents a pound, Hamburger meat was 19 cents a pound and gasoline was 29 cents a gallon. Just think, when I was a kid I could have fed the family, put gas in the car and had a little left over for a treat
or a movie with the buck that little girl wanted for a cookie and a small cup of lemonade.
Please don't think I am yearning for the "good old days". Things were close when I was a kid. I remember that we had a special dinner the night my father came home and announced he was now earning 100 dollars a week! New
clothing came in time to go back to school and school clothing was changed for old clothing as soon as I got home. Bicycles were handed down from one kid to another. A "new" car was more often than not a used car and summer camp was out of the question in my family. Besides we lived in Florida. The whole state was a summer camp.
I think the major difference between then and now was that I knew the value of money. I knew it had to be acquired by hard work and carefully spent. If I whined to my mother about needing money she would point to the stack of
soda bottles that needed to be redeemed for the deposit or tell me to wash the windows for a small sum.
Every kid supplemented his or her meager allowance with a job. Boys and girls babysat. The best job for a boy was carrying people's groceries from the store to their car for a dime a load. Mowing a neighbor's lawn earned fifteen cents or a quarter if you were lucky. Even the tooth fairly would only leave a quarter a tooth and we couldn't wait for our next tooth to fall out.
A few days after the "Lemonade Incident" I spoke to the mother of these two dear little girls. I mentioned my point-of-view for this column and she laughed. But then she told me all the money the girls raised has been dedicated to charity. GULP! Maybe they do know the value of a buck after all. As Rosanne Rosanadana would have said on the old Saturday Night Live Program.... "NEVER MIND!"
However, I am left with one final thought. With the economy stagnating for the last five years, we may yet see the day when once again thrift is an esteemed virtue and money is something to be earned through hard work and spent
carefully. More and more neighbors tell me that their sons and daughters who recently graduated from good colleges and universities are having difficulty finding work and are moving back home. It may be difficult for a while, but I think
we will all benefit in the long run when more of us recognize the virtue of careful spending. We may not see two-cent lemonade again, but we will see a sounder society.
Henry Bassman has written about high-technology and medical technology (biotechnology, medical devices and healthcare issues) for more than 40 years. He retired from AT&T, served in the U.S. Army where he became a captain and worked for ABC News. He is now affiliated with a small investment bank. Articles by Henry can be seen on ABCNews.com and other business Web sites. Henry has lived in Summit, NJ for 37 years and has been married for more than 40 years. He has three daughters who graduated from Summit High School.
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