Trained by the Best

By Sioux Roslawski

Last summer as I sat idling, waiting for the train to pass, I glanced over at the lemonade booth set up in a front yard. The train was long and slow. I was hot, and from the looks on the kids’ faces, business was even more sluggish than the train.

I contemplated just ignoring their pleading eyes. If I kept staring ahead, I could pretend they weren’t there. After all, I was two minutes from home. Free beverages in the fridge awaited me.

But then, I remembered Mrs. Buffa. And I turned off the ignition, got out and ended up buying a cup of lemonade. In fact, it was so refreshing (as I smacked my lips with exaggerated satisfaction) I paid them double what they were charging as I thought to myself, ‘Mrs. Buffa, you taught me well…’

You see, as a kid, I was crazy about cash.

These days, my motivations differ. I’m a teacher (not the most lucrative job). I dye my own hair (and when I splurge, it’s on the $9 box instead of the $4 brand). I wear the same atrocious-looking Crocs almost daily. But in my pre-teen phase, I was obsessed with earning money.

The first start-up summer, I sold peaches. In the fall before, the tree in our backyard had gotten struck by lightning, which seemed to speed up its mature metabolism. We had so many peaches, the branches were begging to be unburdened, and my mother could not keep up, despite making jam and cobblers and pies. I figured we should share our overage of those fuzzy orbs with our neighbors and, in the process, I could earn some cash.

After a business meeting with the local branch of BOMAD (Bank of Mom and Dad), I set out with our old rusty red wagon, an antique portable produce scale, a bunch of paper lunch sacks and a huge box of peaches.

Was I saver? No. Did I come from a family without the means for a comfortable lifestyle? No. Did I have my eye on some “big” purchase, perhaps an extra special Christmas present for a family member? No. When I was 9, it was the neighborhood Ben Franklin that beckoned me, with their bins and bins of penny candy and their cheap toys.

The next summer, the peach supply had returned to its normal dribbles and drabs. For my endeavors as an entrepreneur, I was going to have to be more creative.

After racking my brain, and noticing that in the summer, everyone ate more salads, I put two and two together and planned on a new product line: wild “onions.”

Perhaps they were properly known as “onion grass.” I didn’t care what they were called. All I knew was there were lots of patches of oniony-smelling grass growing right in front of our house, between the sidewalk and the street, and they were there in front of the neighbors’ houses as well. Just like the chives my parents put on top of their baked potatoes, I decided this plant material would be delicious snipped up in a salad.

To harvest the “crop,” all I had to do was twist a bunch between my hands and yank. After pulling a few bunches, my hands reeked of a strong onion odor but that didn’t bother me. One, I loved the flavor of onions – even at that young age – and two, the aroma was like nasal ambrosia as it wafted towards my nostrils.

I knocked on door after door. The neighbors were polite, but clearly not interested. After not a single sale, I grew a bit despondent. Perhaps I had lost my slick salesman skills?

When I came to Mrs. Buffa’s house, however, the tide turned. Okay, perhaps it didn’t crash in like a wave but it was a small ripple.

She came to the door and right away I started my spiel. “Hi, Mrs. Buffa. I’ve got some wild onions, and they would be really tasty in a salad. You could just sprinkle them on top of the lettuce and tomatoes and really add some zing. Would you like to buy some?”

Her tired-looking eyes looked smilingly at me. She brushed her blondish-red hair back into place with a hand, while the other plump arm held open the screen door. And then surprisingly, she said yes.

Now, of course, I know that – most likely – she immediately threw them in the trash and probably shook her head over the idea of a kid selling weeds. But as a ten-year old, I was ecstatic.

Unfortunately, that was my only sale, so the next summer I tried a different tack. My mother had a habit of saving Christmas cards the family had received. She would cut them up the next year, creating free gift tags. Some had just a signature, while others had a note scrawled across the card. They were both free and abundant and as much of a hit as the wild onions. More than forty years later, I don’t even remember my sales pitch. Whatever it was, it wasn’t convincing because I got a long string of no’s…until I got to Mrs. Buffa’s house.

Mrs. Buffa acted thrilled to buy some of the cards. She chose several, commented on the colorful designs, and paid me. Even though it was my only sale – until the boys behind us bought all of them at a much-reduced price (they made marvelous paper airplanes) – it buoyed my spirits. By the time I got to the end of her driveway, she was probably chuckling over someone selling “used” Christmas cards as she tossed them in the trashcan. Maybe I was even talked about at cocktail parties.

All I know is I still remember Mrs. Buffa. I’m sure she had no idea what a kind thing she did for me – two summers in a row. It was an act that cost so little, but did so much.

About this writer

  • Sioux Roslawski Sioux Roslawski was the chosen child of Carol Kortjohn. She is the mother of two, and is Riley’s Grammy. Her stories can be found in 13 Chicken Soup for the Soul collections, along with a few other anthologies. More of her meanderings can be found at http://siouxspage.blogspot.com.

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13 Responses to “Trained by the Best”

  1. What a sweet story, Sioux! I had a “Mrs. Buffa” in my old neighborhood, too. My product was homemade pot holders….the kind made on a loom, with stretchy loops! Thanks for the memories!

  2. Gosh! You were such a Future Enterpriser. All I did was dig clay out of the creek and make bowls. I didn’t try to sell any. It took all summer to paint them with watercolors. Clay is a very thirsty medium.

    I always buy an item from students who want me to look at their fundraiser materials. Just because they have the guts to ask.

  3. Lynn Obermoeller says:

    Great story!

  4. What a young and ambitious young lady you were. Lovely story. Sounds like you are an image of Mrs. Buffa.

  5. Tammy says:

    You made me laugh and cry a little at the same time. Not to mention inspired me! What an engaging story.

  6. What a delightful story, proof that the action of one person can have a long lasting impact, especially on a child. Your stopping to buy lemonade made me smile. I enjoyed reading your story.

  7. Becky, Lynn, Donna and Tammy–Thanks for your wonderful comments. Each one of you have helped–and continue to help–me.

    Kathy–In some strange way, I feel like I know you. I can’t quite explain it…Maybe you could?

  8. Beth Wood says:

    Sioux – Love your story! See? The smallest of kind gestures really does have a lasting, positive impact.

  9. What a great story! A small act of kindness leaves lasting memories.

  10. Rose Ann Sinay says:

    I love how life lessons and wonderful memories collide! Enjoyed your story!

  11. Sioux, I don’t know how this got passed me. I love your story. Congratulations. You are on your way!!!

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