It is the peak of summer, and as you cruise through Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods you invariably see a gathering of small children by the curb, waving their arms and hoping that you will buy a glass of lemonade from their stand.
Every time I pass by one I am thrown — like spinning through a time machine — back to the very early 1950s.
I grew up in Brookline, right behind Moore Park. The sounds of kids at the pool and cheers from softball games permeated our neighborhood and confirmed that summer was in full swing.
One day at age 5, I took a break from playing outside to come into the house. I went into the kitchen and began to grab a pitcher and some glasses. My dad was in the kitchen and asked what I was doing.
“I am setting up a lemonade stand,” I said, “so that I can make some money.” I wanted to go to the little store at Pioneer and Beaufort Avenue and buy some of those wax figurines that you could bite off the top and drink the juice inside.
Before I could leave, my dad motioned for me to take a seat at the kitchen table for just a minute. He proceeded to put a tablet and pencil before him on the table.
“So you want to start a lemonade stand, do you?” he said. “Well, how many lemons do you think you will need to make the lemonade?”
Seriously? I am 5 years old! How would I know? I don’t quite remember the number, but he told me and wrote that number on the paper.
“How much does one lemon cost?” he asked? Really? Am I supposed to know that? He told me how much one lemon was and wrote that down beside the number of lemons, multiplied and totaled it.
“Sugar. You need sugar to make the lemonade. How much much does sugar cost?” He tells me and writes down that number.
“Water and ice. Well, no charge for that. But, that pitcher you have in your hand? How much did that cost? Oh, and also those six glasses?”
I shrugged my shoulders. He listed the cost of the pitcher and the glasses beneath the lemon and sugar numbers.
“You need a table to put this stuff on, right? And you will probably want a chair to sit on while you wait for your customers. Well, for one day you won’t have to buy a table, but it will cost you to rent our card table and chair.”
He wrote down another number on the paper, which I assume was his idea of a fair rental charge.
“Finally, you will need a sign. How much do you think a sign will cost?”
Another number goes on the paper. Then he totals it and looks at me.
“Do you have any money to pay for these items?”
Of course not, Dad, I am 5, remember? He graciously offers to front me the money for the lemons, sugar, pitcher, glasses, sign and rent, but I will have to pay him back at the end of the day when I close up the stand.
Now, he asks me how much I should charge for each glass of lemonade and how many I think I will need to sell in order to pay him back — and have enough money left over to take to the corner store for my candy. Whoa, I think, this lemonade stand is way more trouble than it’s worth!
So, I stand up, push back the chair, leave the pitcher and glass, and in the immortal words of Emily Litella from “Saturday Night Live,” I say to my dad, “Never mind!” And I bound out the front door to play until the street lights come on. I figured I could just wait a couple of days and ask him for some money to go to the little store.
Little did I know that the experience would remain so vivid in my mind after all these years, after classes and courses, tuition and degrees. I received my first class in “Fundamentals of Business Principles” at no cost from my father at the kitchen table so long ago!
He was born in 1911, a first-generation, bilingual Italian-American who grew up on the Bluff and only attended school through the eighth grade. He grew up to become a chef and own a restaurant and then a beer distributorship and made enough money to cover his costs and own a home and raise a daughter and two sons.
To this day, as I stop at a lemonade stand and roll down my window while reaching for a quarter or 50 cents, I catch myself wanting to ask: “Are you making enough money to cover your costs and still have a profit?”
Instead I just say, “I’ll take one, thank you,” and enjoy my lemonade. Then I drive away picturing my dad sitting at the kitchen table those many years ago.
Daria L. Svaline of South Fayette, a retired tax analyst, can be reached at email@example.com.
The PG Portfolio welcomes “Summer Memories” submissions and other reader essays. Send your writing to firstname.lastname@example.org; or by mail to Portfolio, Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh PA 15222. Portfolio editor Gary Rotstein may be reached at 412-263-1255.