The year was 1962. My dad and I were standing on our front lawn. Arms crossed, he surveyed the scene before him, a grim look on his face.
“These weeds are a menace,” he pronounced, as if our front yard had become the beachhead for a botanical invasion. Only 9 years old, I did not appreciate the severity of the problem.
“But I like the flowers,” I said quietly, observing the carpet of yellow all over our front lawn. “I think they’re pretty.”
“They are weeds,” my father scolded, ignoring my obvious naiveté. “Dandelions, to be exact.”
“Lions?” They weren’t even the color of lions, at least the ones I’d seen in books.
“Dandelions. They are pernicious things,” he added. Judging by the tone of Dad’s voice that meant something exceedingly bad.
“Well, they’re still pretty.”
My father ignored my comments. “Tell you what,” he said. “I’ll give you a nickel for each one you pick and remove from the front lawn.”
A nickel. A whole nickel. For each one. I would be rich.
Under the firm tutelage of my father—who had obviously not heard of weed spray or, more likely, was too frugal to purchase it—I soon learned that one did not pick a dandelion the way you might pick a daisy, for example. To remove dandelions, you have to unceremoniously dig them up from the roots with a metal utensil that resembled a pointed soup spoon.
It was grueling work. After an hour of toil, I had only 22 dandelions in my bucket. That was far from the bountiful harvest I had imagined—and probably not enough to please my father, who wanted a green, not yellow, lawn.
Then I got a really grand idea.
Like many 9-year-old kids in the Summer of 1962, I was an experienced lemonade-stand operator. I would set up a card table, one pitcher of chilled lemonade, one pitcher of chilled Kool-Aid, a sign advertising my thirst-quenchers for 5¢ a cup, and a tarnished tin box for collecting sales and making change. Business would typically be brisk for the first 30 minutes or so, during which time my friends would frequent my establishment. Then, predictably, sales would drop off. After compensating my mother for her expenses, I would be lucky to walk away with a single quarter in profits.
But today, admiring the beauty of those yellow flowers my father called weeds, I had something else in mind.
There would be no overhead with this venture. A quick alteration to my sign, and I was ready for business.
“Dandy Lions—5¢ a Bunch!” my sign proclaimed in the near-perfect penmanship I had learned at school.
I tore off the flowers, careful to leave enough of the pulled weeds in the bucket to earn my father’s approval—and his nickels. Then I carefully placed three of the vibrant yellow treasures in a cup, using the same cups that would normally hold lemonade or Kool-Aid. Seven cups in all—one cup held four flowers—fully displaying all 22 blooms from my weed-harvesting efforts.
Then I waited.
Strangely enough, the gardening neighbor from across the street became my first customer. He took one look at my sign, scanned the flowers in their cups, and shook his head in disbelief. “Don’t that beat all!” he exclaimed. “A dandelion stand. Got to have one of those bouquets to give my wife. She’ll never believe it.”
Miss Fletcher, my piano teacher, was my second customer. She drove by, backed up, parked her car, and approached with a look I had only seen once—when I had correctly executed Beethoven’s Ode to Joy during a particularly successful lesson.
“What a beautiful floral arrangement!” Miss Fletcher exclaimed, closely examining the cups. “I’ll take two. They’ll brighten the top of my piano today.”
I was reveling in the initial success of my business venture when my father appeared.
My father critically scrutinized the table, my sign, and the flowers, a look of incredulity on his face. And then he did some-thing that I will never forget.
“Well, well, son, didn’t know we had an entrepreneur in the family.”
I said nothing, basking in the joy of being heralded an entrepreneur (whatever that meant) by my father.
“I’ll take one cup,” he casually remarked, producing a nickel from his pocket.
As he made his way back to the house, a cup of dandelions in his hand, he thought of something and stopped. “By the way, how many weeds did you pull?”
“Twenty-two,” I announced. “Do you want to see them?”
“No, son,” he answered, smiling, “I trust you.” Then he added, “Don’t close up shop quite yet. I have a feeling your mother will want to see this.”
It was a moment of sheer bliss for me. I had won the approval of my father, something that would stay with me for a long time. And I had managed to double-dip from his wallet. He gave me 5¢ for the cup of arranged flowers, plus he was going to give me 5¢ apiece for each pulled weed in that cup—20¢ in all from Dad for that one cup of yellow brilliance!
When Mom came out to see the flower operation Dad had described, she was holding the cup my Dad had given her, delighted to see her son cleverly peddling such beauty. By now, I had only two cups remaining on my table—one of them the cup with four flowers. So far, no one had wanted that four-flower cup.
I smiled at my mother. “Mom,” I said, “may I give you this cup of four flowers for yours with three? You deserve it.” Mom agreed and went off cheerfully with her even-more-bountiful cup. Before long, the last cups were sold. I plotted and planned how I would set up shop again the succeeding days—each day with a new harvest—until the lawn was fully converted from yellow to green. And while pulling dandelions was hard work, getting paid for them twice made the profits much bigger than those from my lemonade stand.
And then I remembered the time my grandfather told me the old adage: “Dave, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”
I broke into a big grin and said, right out loud, “Yessir, Grandad. And when life gives you weeds, make fabulous flower arrangements!” ❖