In Which Children Do Not Make Good Small-Business People

In Which Children Do Not Make Good Small-Business People

Lemonade stands are so passé. How about a detective stand?

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In case you missed the blaring headline, the U.S. Open Golf Tournament, otherwise a great success from what I’ve heard, was marred for some by the criminal behavior of a few. I’m talking, of course, about the family that allowed their children to operate a thriving lemonade stand without a license. Yes, I hear the stand earned enough profit to rival that of a small tech company, but folks, it was all for charity. Gone, apparently, are the days when that quarter (or is it five bucks now?) for a cup of lemonade would go directly into the comic book fund.

When I was of the age to be running lemonade stands, charity from the kid’s perspective still meant collecting pennies for Unicef on Halloween. Now, it means your lemonade profits go toward building a better world. These are great values to teach, don’t get me wrong. I just hope there’s still room for a kid to waste a few hard-earned lemonade stand bucks on some bubble gum and trading cards.

Frankly, I never made much money selling lemonade. But I didn’t grow up in a neighborhood where they had many U.S. Open games, particularly before I was nine, when my family moved to a much friendlier community. Before we moved, the only major competition would’ve been the Cherry-Bomb Toss, in which local teens vied to see who could throw a firecracker furthest from inside a speeding car. It was in that neighborhood where I opened my first and only home-based business. It was not a lemonade stand. It was a detective stand.

My best friend, Carlton, and I had read a lot of Encyclopedia Brown books. These were mysteries whose solutions nearly always involved catching the criminal in a logic flaw or some other mistake that only Brown was clever enough to figure out. The stories took place in or around the boy’s neighborhood or school, and usually involved people he knew. There was no time travel, there were no magical weapons, spells, or potions that ever turned out to be truly magical; and there were no supernatural creatures from other worlds available to help solve the mysteries. Brown was so smart, he always figured out the answer before I did. I wanted to be that clever. So here was a chance to try. Carlton and I hung a sign from the lamppost in front of my house offering our services as detectives. Then we sat at a table on the front lawn and waited.

By the way, Carlton and I were 7 years old. Our only customers that day were two teenage boys. We were excited to have customers. While one of them explained the disappearance of their dog, “a large German Shepherd,” the other one showed unusual interest in our sign. We took notes: What color was the dog? What was his name? Where was he last seen? In the middle of our interrogation, the two boys took off. As they ran away, our sign fell from the lamppost onto the lawn.

The sign was on fire.

Then the grass caught fire. Carlton and I were even more excited! We jumped around the lawn screaming for a full minute, until my parents looked outside. Someone called the fire department, but before help came, we were able to put out the fire with the garden hose. Still, the arrival of the hook and ladder truck in front of my house was the highlight of our week. This detective business turned out to be a great idea for livening up a dull summer day.

The cause of the fire was not mysterious: The boys had sprayed something flammable and then lit a match. But why do it? Why commit mischief on little kids? Surely today those teens would be meaningfully engaged in an NIH internship, or collecting used toys for a homeless shelter. Okay, maybe not.

Later that night, the police brought a teenage boy to our house, held him by the collar in front of me, and said, “Is this him?”

Now that I’ve watched a few detective shows on TV, I know this is not the standard way of identifying a culprit. If that kid didn’t have it in for me before, do you think he did after that?

Anyway, it wasn’t him. Or maybe it was. And maybe today, that guy is taking out his resentment by fining kids who run lemonade stands at golf tournaments. I guess we’ll never know.

For more from Paula Whyman, see and her online parody newspaper

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