Magic dust! The words caught my eye as I paid for my grapes at the vineyard farm stand. A small baggie of wonder-working dust to work magic on tired African violets–bargain at only one dollar!
There was no mention of secret ingredients or even active ingredients. The magic was in the crooked handwriting. I am a complete pushover for childish entrepreneurs, and “Isaac + Cyrus” were apparently nothing if not clever little marketers making money for their piggy bank.
I bought a bag. Of course. I could just see the devotion to the project: first getting the idea—next, enlisting a partner (not always a smooth process when siblings are involved!)—then finding the special dirt—bagging it—cutting the masking tape—making painstaking letters—deciding on the price—creating the display. And then standing back to watch the money roll in, with bated breath.
It reminded me of decades ago, when three little girls knocked at our neighbor’s door to offer bouquets for sale. The flowers were short of stem, limp from sweaty hands, and way overpriced.
But my little sisters were confident of one thing: the flowers they were selling were most certainly ones the neighbor liked. After all, the girls had just selected the best from the neighbor’s very own flower beds!
I can’t forget some of my own door-to-door experiences as a child. My friend Norma and I decided to sell Sunflower dishcloths. It was soon after our school had raised lots of money selling hundreds of those very dishcloths for a quarter each. Well, obviously the rural Denbigh market had been saturated by the time we two girls piled dishcloths into our bicycle baskets and plied the Colony roads. The weather turned cold; the wind blew them out of our baskets; and no one wanted to buy dishcloths. We arrived home, discouraged, with a quarter between us for our trouble. I am pretty sure both our mothers were well supplied with dishcloths for years to come, because I don’t think we ever went out and tried again.
Maybe that’s why we have always sympathized with the kids knocking on our door. The children of the neighborhood know we will buy whatever they are selling for fund-raisers. We buy boxes of Girl Scout Cookies; we buy fall bulbs to plant; we buy Christmas ribbon.
But a week ago I shocked myself. A brother and sister knocked at my door. I had always bought from them before. But when I paged through their catalogs, something in me rebelled. The glitzy catalog had nothing but candles and candle stuff. Now, I love candles as much as anyone. I have a cabinet full of candles, some of them handmade by family.
But thirty-five dollars for one, seventy dollars if I bought one from each kid? Part of me argued: just buy the candles, it’s for the kids. The other part of me said: no it’s for some company that’s running this fund-raiser. The kids have nothing to do with it. In the end, I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t buy the candles. I’m so sorry, kids, not this time, I said.
I buy other stuff, though. For nephews and grandsons at a distance, the internet is a wonderful thing.
Popcorn from little Boy Scouts near Buffalo NY. Lovely multi-colored tissue paper packs on their way from a school in Rockville, MD. But these are reasonably priced in the 6, 10, 12 dollar range. And they are things I enjoy using.
Fund-raisers aside, my heart will always leap to the crooked lettering and the spunk of such little dust-baggers as Isaac and Cyrus.
And, like the generous neighbor of our childhood, I will always buy a handful of fresh sweaty flowers, even if the little florist delivery girls have snatched them from my own flower beds.
Susan Yoder Ackerman is a writer and gardener in Newport News, Virginia. Both her writing and her gardening are enhanced by tending a century-old family farmhouse and eight grandchildren that come and go. You can email Susan at [email protected]