The lemonade stand – An American tradition

    It seems almost a throwback to a different era when I pass by a neighborhood lemonade stand. I wonder if the youngsters realize that they are participating in an American tradition than spans generations and geography.

    Their voices drift through the thick heat of a mid-summer day.

    “Lemonade for sale… Ice-cold lemonade…”

    In today’s world of stranger danger, big-box stores, and online purchasing, it seems almost a throwback to a different era when I pass by a neighborhood lemonade stand. I wonder if the youngsters, earnest and adorable in their sweaty enthusiasm, realize that they are participating in an American tradition than spans generations and geography. I’ve spotted lemonade stands in posh neighborhoods, Beaver Cleaver suburbs, on gritty urban streets, and scenic rural roads.

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    My own sisters and I participated in this summer ritual many times, on the side of a winding mountain road in the foothills above Golden, Colorado. As the oldest of seven, I was in charge of thinking up brilliant ideas to make the long, lazy summer days more exciting. We didn’t have a television, and the bookmobile only came every other week, so we learned to be creative in filling our time.

    I can only imagine what those carloads of tourists must have though as they careened around the bend of the loopy road on the way to Buffalo Bill’s grave, coming upon six enterprising girls, ages 13 down to two, scurrying industriously around a wobbly card table, positioned about six inches from speeding traffic.

    Each sister had a job to do, and we all shared in the profits and fun. We older ones may have skimmed a little off the top, but that was our due, after all. And we had more expenses. As the oldest, I was the idea man, the operations manager, and the cash counter. I made sure no one slacked off and everyone did her job.

    Karen and Avis were the salesmen. They held handmade signs and stepped close enough to the road to make sure that traffic slowed down, but not so close that they became road kill. It was a fine line.

    The next two youngest, Elaine and Mary, were the leg-men, replenishing our supplies from the house — the worst job, because the house sat several hundred feet down away from the main road. Gail, a toddler at the time, just sat there and was cute. My mother provided the lemonade and encouragement.

    Not satisfied with the paltry profits that a few gallons of lemonade brought in, we quickly expanded our business plan.

    We filled grocery bags with the sappy, fragrant pinecones that carpeted the forest that adjoined our house and sold each bag for 50 cents. We sold homemade brownies and cookies. And we sold pyrites and odd rocks and minerals that my father gave us from his rock collecting business.

    The tourists, the flat-landers as we Coloradoans called them, loved pyrites, or fool’s gold. Especially when it was sold to them by one of my apple-cheeked sisters, who would then do a cartwheel for their further entertainment.

    After a full day in the hot sun, we would finally run out of lemonade and energy. Money was spread out on the black tar driveway under our carport and counted into piles of sticky coins and limp, sweaty bills.

    Then we would hop on our bikes and zoom down the road to the souvenir shop at Buffalo Bill’s grave and buy fake Indian trinkets, sodas, and candy. From an early age we McDermott girls have always believed it is our personal responsibility to spend everything we earn so as to keep the American economy afloat. And, if you ask me, we do a damn fine job.

    So, get your ice-cold lemonade. And make someone’s day. Maybe even your own.

    Kathy Stevenson’s work has appeared in many major newspapers and magazines. Her historical novel “The Lake Poet” was published in 2001, and she has published two essay collections. In 2010, her short story collection “Death, Divorce, and Other Tales of Women’s Liberation” was published as an e-book on Amazon’s Kindle. She received an M.F.A. in creative writing from Bennington College in Vermont. She can be reached at

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