Money On TreesBy Tim Newlin
My brother, Tom, said we should make some money. I knew what money was – adults had piles of it. But the idea of making the stuff seemed crazy to me. I was 6 years old and could make paper airplanes and hammer a nail. But making quarters, nickels and dimes was a mystery.
Tom, was the businessman in the family. He seemed to know all about money because he was 13 months older than me. I was just a dummy, and Tom was good enough to remind me about that every time he felt like doling out his wealth of wisdom. He told me that you didn’t make the stuff, you had to earn it. I got another dummy reminder when I asked about earn. He explained that it was all about working and sweating and thinking of stuff to sell. Thinking was okay, but I was already sweating from the heat and had nothing to sell. Tom was sure that earning was the way to get money, and that other ways would have the cops chasing us and send our souls to hell.
Tom said there was a way to earn called business and that was all about knowing what people want. He figured that people always wanted something cold to drink on a hot day, and that down on the corner there were hundreds of hot, sweaty people just waiting to buy a glass of Kool-Aid.
Even I knew what that was.
Kool-Aid was the miracle drink of America in the 1950s. Mom had a dozen packs of it in the kitchen. We loaded our wagon with a cool pitcher of strawberry Kool-Aid, some paper cups, a few boxes, crayons and paper, and sloshed down the sidewalk to the corner. We parked under a tree and used a board on the wagon for a countertop. I made the sign and Tom set the price – 5 cents a cup! With the pitcher and a stack of cups on our counter, we sat on the boxes, remembered not to pick our noses, and smiled. we were open for business.
It soon became clear that earning had its problems. The Kool-Aid was getting warm and we had to cover the pitcher to keep out the flies and leaves. People passed in a hurry. Some smiled and shook their heads. Our first customer was a man that slapped a nickel on our counter, grabbed the pitcher, filled and gulped down two cups of Kool-Aid, crushed the cup, tossed it on the ground and walked away. Tom was about to yell “Litterbug!” at the guy, when Sister Mary, a teacher from our school, patted me on the head and told Tom not to waste his breath because some people just don’t care. I picked up the cup while Tom sold Sister Mary some Kool-Aid. She paid and waved goodbye, telling us to keep up the good work.
We brushed away leaves, swatted flies, and watched the cars go by on the busy four-lane that was full of Fords, Caddies, Buicks, Oldsmobiles, trucks and busses. We started competing to pick out the make, model, and year of each vehicle. The 1955 models had just hit the streets, including the Thunderbird and Corvette sports cars. 7 out of 10 American families owned a car in those days and a gallon of gas cost only 23 cents. Los Angeles was a city of cars. Today’s cars would have all looked pretty much the same to our eyes back then. Cars in the 50s came in all shapes and colors with fins, headlights, tail-lights, grills, and chrome details that were brands in themselves. They also had horns that could wake the dead and big, roaring engines that belched out lung-choking, brown smog that filled the LA basin and gave me breathing problems.
Doing business was thirsty work, so we drank our product. Before long, the pitcher was almost empty. I told Tom I was tired of earning and left.
I started kicking piles of leaves as I walked towards home. The leaves had piled up pretty thick on the sidewalks and in the gutters. When I dragged my foot sideways along the gutter up against the curb I could plow out a small road. I imagined my shoe was one of those big earth movers I’d seen digging the world’s biggest swimming pool out behind our property (I learned later that it was really the new city reservoir). Lost in my road-building fantasies, I got my toy truck for a test drive. That inspired me to get my dad’s push-broom. I broom-plowed through gutters, up driveways and sidewalks. I made highways, side roads, and parking lots. I was several houses down the street before a neighbor snapped me out of my fantasy. Mr Benton came outside, handed me a soda and gave me 50 cents, saying that I was doing a great job. I had no idea what he meant, but I took the money and thanked him with my mouth full of soda.
Just then, Tom came back with the wagon. Mr. Benton called him over and told us we could use the wagon to haul away the leaves, then he went back inside to get out of the heat. Tom finished off my soda, gave me a dummy reminder, and demanded to know what the heck was going on. When I told him all about it, and got to the part about the 50 cents, Tom’s business brain kicked in. He looked at all the leaves on our street and saw money on trees.
In no time, we had two brooms, a shovel, and another wagon. We swept all up and down our street for the rest of the day.
I swept and Tom hauled the leaves away. With two wagons, it went fast. We worked until we were dirty and sore all over. Many other neighbors gave us coins. Some weren’t home and some weren’t the paying type, but by suppertime we had earned $3.15 – the 15 cents was from the Kool-Aid business.
We stashed the tools, hid the money in our room, took a cold bath, and had just sat down to eat, when Dad came home from work. I was dead tired so I don’t remember the meal, but I do remember that mom looked at us in a funny way and said something about an empty sugar jar (Kool-Aid needs 2 full cups of sugar with the package). We cleaned up our plates and dashed off to bed.
As we climbed into our bunkbeds, we heard dad go out to the garage like he always did after dinner. But this time he came storming back in, yelling at mom with words I was not supposed to hear. He wanted to know why a huge pile of dirty leaves had been dumped behind the garage. Tom poked his head over the edge of the top bunk and ordered me to shut my eyes and pretend to sleep – no matter what! I followed orders and snored. Just then, dad barged in ready to start yelling, when mom pulled him out and whispered to leave it until morning, because we were asleep and she was tired and wanted some peace and quiet for the rest of the evening. Dad grumbled and closed the door. It seemed that money-making and earning were full of problems. Then I remembered the nickels, dimes, and quarters in the sock under Tom’s pillow.
I sure wanted to see it all just one more time before going to sleep. But I didn’t want another dummy reminder. Besides, the Boss was tired and needed rest for another hard day of making money. ©2010:Tim Newlin