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February 25th, 2009, 11:07pm Print this article

Road Signs For Success

By Jim Whitt

I spotted him as I pulled through the entrance of the gated community where we live. He was appropriately dressed for a youngster of eight, nine or ten — wearing a pair of athletic shoes, camouflage pants (official dress in Oklahoma), a T-shirt and a Kool-Aid moustache. He waved at me, and everyone else driving by for that matter, with the enthusiasm of a politician seeking votes on Election Day. The boy was standing beside a small table that supported a large pitcher of lemonade and an optimistic supply of Styrofoam cups. But this was no Norman Rockwell, summertime adventure. This kid was selling lemonade on February 5. Imagine — setting up a lemonade stand in the dead of winter! I pulled into the garage and walked back down the street to buy some lemonade from this young entrepreneur. His price was 50¢ a cup. “What inspired you to sell lemonade today?” I asked. His response was simple and direct, “It was my idea.” I couldn’t think of any better reason than that. I bought two cups.

The lemonade incident made me think of a great scene from the movie True Grit. Marshall Rooster Cogburn (John Wayne) and Texas Ranger Le Boeuf (Glen Campbell) ditch young Mattie (Kim Darby) before they board the ferry to cross the river into Indian Territory. Undeterred, Mattie jumps her horse into the river and swims across while Cogburn and Le Boeuf watch from the ferry in disbelief. Profoundly impressed with the grit of the girl, Rooster utters one of my favorite lines from the film, “By God! She reminds me of me!” That youngster selling lemonade in February reminds me of me. The boy is a natural born contrarian. Maybe I should have looked up his parents and let them know what they were in for.

Fifty some years ago my brother and I set up a lemonade stand along the dusty gravel road in front of our house. It was in the dead of summer instead of winter but we were probably even more audacious than this boy because we lived in the middle of nowhere. Our only customers that day arrived in a cattle truck — a couple of thirsty cowboys. Best as I can remember we priced our lemonade at a nickel a glass so our take for the day was 10¢. You can see why I relate to that boy out there on the side of the street, smiling and waving at prospective customers, trying to drum up business. I don’t know if he sold lemonade to anyone else but me but if not his dollar in sales would probably be the equivalent of the dime we made when adjusted for inflation.

I guess someone ought to tell the boy that times are tough. Maybe someone should tell him that he’s crazy to be out selling lemonade in the middle of a recession and especially in the middle of winter. But it won’t be me. No, I think this boy has the right idea — and remember it was his idea. As far as I’m concerned, this youngster ought to be the poster boy for economic recovery in our country. We should send him on a speaking tour to educate adults about what will get the economy humming again. Washington should be the first stop — he could testify before congress. And when they ask him what inspired him to sell lemonade, he’ll tell them, “It was my idea.” That will cause quite a stir won’t it? What? You mean this wasn’t a government program? No, it was his idea. He could have been sitting on the couch watching TV but he had an idea that he could make money selling lemonade — and he did something about it! Since he wasn’t watching TV he probably hadn’t heard anything about bailouts. So, to paraphrase John Houseman’s line from those old Smith-Barney commercials, he makes money the old-fashioned way, he earns it. Amazing isn’t it? It’s the same idea my brother and I had in the 1950s. And it’s one that still works.

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