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Sheila Stoll: When life gives you lemons, beware

Becky and Billy lived on Capitol Street, at the west end of a 5-acre lemon grove. Ned and Nancy lived on Community Street at the east end of the grove. Both sets of siblings were bright, energetic grade-schoolers in the little town of Enterprise.

During lemon season, Mr. Brown, who owned the grove, let the children glean the lemons that fell to the ground or were deemed otherwise unworthy. But lemons aren't apples so no one picked them ripe to just eat on the spot. The kids brought some home and urged their mothers to make pies and cakes, and of course, everyone enjoyed sipping lemonade at that time of year.

Becky and Billy decided to open a lemonade stand in front of their house on Capitol Street. Ned and Nancy did the same thing. For the first week both stands did a brisk business at 15 cents a glass and earned a tidy profit.

In the second week, Becky and Billy decided to offer Mr. Brown a penny each for the lemons that never hit the ground, the good ones. Using the premium fruit, they put up a sign about the improved quality of their lemonade and started charging 25 cents a glass.

Ned and Nancy offered to pay their little brother, Nathan, a penny for each lemon he gathered and then they started to charge 25 cents a glass. Nathan was saving up for a bicycle. They put up a sign about Nathan's bicycle fund and most people didn't mind paying a little extra for a good cause. So they made up a contract for the people on Community Street that obligated people on that street to buy all their lemonade from Ned and Nancy. They promised that after Nathan got his bicycle they would use some of their proceeds to benefit other bikeless kids on the block.

Becky and Billy thought it was cheating to make an exclusive contract with all the families on Community Street. Ned and Nancy thought the other entrepreneurs on Capitol Street were cheating to charge 25 cents per glass because the good-looking lemons didn't really make better lemonade. Becky and Billy didn't want anyone on Capitol Street to buy lemonade from Ned and Nancy.

The competition was fierce. Soon Becky and Billy had Quality Lemonade signs up everywhere. They started a Lemonade Club and gave all their customers a card that showed how many glasses each person bought. When the card was full the card-holder would get a free glass of lemonade.

Ned and Nancy told all the people on Community Street that if their kids helped collect lemons from the ground in the grove and opened branch stands along the street, they could pool their money, get bikes for everyone and have a modest profit. They would all earn the same amount and the neighborhood would benefit from the wholesome after-school activity that operating all the stands would rack up. It sounded good.

Ned and Nancy's activity at the east end of the grove did not go unnoticed. Becky and Billy needed to up the ante for their stand on Capitol Street at the west end. Becky made a startling suggestion: Instead of paying kids to pick lemons, they could buy concentrated lemon juice, use corn syrup instead of sugar and make enough for each of them to buy a moped. They could hire a few kids to make fancier signs, pick enough beautiful lemons to make a display on their expanded lemonade stand, and still make enough for their mopeds. After all, lemon juice is lemon juice and sweetener is sweet.

Meanwhile on the east side of the grove, Nancy and Ned discovered that some of their franchised stand operators were grumbling about having to turn in their money and all share equally in the profits. Some didn't care whether kids near the ends of Community Street got bikes or not.

Mr. Brown watched these developments and wondered how it would all turn out. Feelings were running high. There were those who were pleased at the enterprising attitude Billy and Becky showed. There were also those who thought that Becky and Billy had become selfish and were resorting to trickery.

There were also those who thought that Nancy and Ned were becoming tin pot dictators stifling the enterprise of kids who wanted to get ahead on their own.

Parents were yelling at each other. On the west side people faced east and yelled "Filthy Communist!" at the east side bunch. On the east side of the grove, they faced Capitol Street and yelled "Filthy Capitalists!" Mr. Brown feared a confrontation mid grove.

Mr. Brown called a meeting. He spoke of moderation. He spoke glowingly of Ned and Nancy's compassion. He extolled the resourcefulness of Becky and Billy. He chastised all the parents for name-calling. "Why can't we all learn from each other. After all we're Lemonists at heart."

Write to Sheila Stoll in care of LifeTimes, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.

Sheila Stoll: When life gives you lemons, beware 07/27/09 [Last modified: Monday, July 27, 2009 5:30am]
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