It was a lovely, sunny Sunday. This May day might have led to hikes or picnics but for me it was the perfect afternoon to make money.
Our parish was holding its annual Catholic Charities collection day in the parish center – which just happened to be on our street. This special donation day was long before online giving. No one could text or click to give money back then.
Instead, the bishop asked parishioners to stay home while workers went door-to-door to collect for the charitable needs of the diocese. And people did. The money that was collected was then brought to the parish center for tallying. Our street was humming with activity.
Some other kids on our street and I figured that if we set up a lemonade stand near the parish center, then the kind-hearted volunteers would stop and buy a cup of our delicious drink. It was a great plan and sure-fire selling opportunity.
The four of us had the help of Hopie’s mom. She provided the cups, ice, lemonade and table. It seemed appropriate that his family sponsor the group. After all, he had a cool bike with a banana seat and their family had a color television.
I provided a lot of the salesmanship since I was not afraid to approach people and ask them to offer up a nickel – that’s right five cents – for a cup of our cold brew.
We really should have moved the table closer to my house because I lived directly across from the center. But Mrs. B. had given us the goods and was watching us closely.
After two hours of work we were satisfied with our efforts. We had made $1. A whole dollar! We did the math and realized that we each now had 25 cents to spend. In today’s economy that might seem quite small, but for us it meant we could each buy five, full-size candy bars. Or we could diversify and purchase two big bars and 15 cents worth of penny candy. And all the penny candy back then was truly just a penny.
We were itching to race to Tony’s Spa or Tom’s Variety to spend our earnings. But we also knew we had to help with clean-up. So, we folded up the table, threw out the trash and handed the almost empty pitcher to Mrs. B.
She asked, “How did you kids do?” We grinned and told her about our dollar profit. She smiled again and then looked at all of us intently. “Now kids, wouldn’t it be really nice if you walked across the street and donated that dollar to Catholic Charities?”
“Nice! No it would not be nice,” we all thought. “Nice would be licking chocolate of our fingers and shaking sugar out of a pixie stick!” However, no one voiced those feelings. No one wanted to look at the lady who had made that lemonade stand possible and say we preferred candy to charity.
Instead we all nodded. We crossed the street under her watchful eye, clutching the change and wishing we had run to the candy store and then done our clean up. We wished she had suggested that we donate 75 cents and let us each keep five cents. We wished that giving to a charity did not hurt so much.
We walked in to the center and spoke to a man at a table. We had hoped that if we were making such a big sacrifice then the least they could do was to make a big fuss. Instead he looked confused. “Who are you kids and what do you want?” was his comment. He then referred us to another table that was for miscellaneous (random) donations. We gave the money and they said thank you. No one called over the pastor or even an assistant priest to say, “Aren’t these kids amazing! They gave their lemonade stand money!”
No, we just walked out of the center slowly and dejectedly. We said little to each other. Wasn’t giving supposed to feel good? Was it ever going to feel as good as biting into a chocolate candy bar? Would we ever think that helping our neighbors was as nice as looking through the glass case at the store and telling the clerk, “One red licorice, two jaw breakers, and three bit-o-honeys?”
Why did giving hurt so much? And why did we, just little kids, have to do it?
That day did not reveal a touchy-feely experience of loving one’s neighbor as oneself. It did not have the happy ending that should come from making a noble sacrifice. At least not right away.
That day showed me that sometimes giving is really, really hard. I suppose if it were easy then the world would be a different place.
But also on that bright, spring afternoon, when all I wanted was to make money for myself, I felt a little kernel of pride within me, knowing that I had done something to help others. And from then on, when my needs feel more important than the needs of othersI know what I should do.
That day I also learned that even though we should give humbly and quietly, it also nice to be thanked.
Sometimes I wonder if giving our lemonade money would have been easier if we had known that it was to help children without any food or families or even homes. We knew the name”Catholic Charities” but we did not understand the work. Maybe if we knew what “neighbor” we were helping we would not have minded helping as much.
Maybe we would not have grumbled so much. Although, I suspect, that we still would have yearned for an afternoon where we could stroll up the street with coins clutched in our hands and dreams of candy in our heads.
Peggy Weber is an award-winning Catholic journalist and the author of Enough as You Are (Loyola Press). She holds degrees from Providence College and Marquette University. She is most especially a wife, mother of three and grandmother of seven.