Friday, March 23, 2012

The Worm Entrepreneurs of Harriet Avenue

I’ve written a note to myself, in among the usual long list of deadlines and commitments, that says, simply, “Quarters.” It's a reminder to myself that now that the weather seems to be truly springlike, I need to stockpile quarters in my car so that I will be ready for every lemonade stand I see.  It’s not that I am such a lover of lemonade, and, truth be told, most of the stuff I buy is tepid and watery. It’s just that I promised my mother.

In the years before she died, when she used to make trips to see me, she made me promise this:  never pass a lemonade stand without stopping. I always stop, even when I’m on my way to a meeting and I'm pretty sure that I'm about to get lost. I stop when I drank six ice teas at lunch and am racing home to the bathroom. I stop even when the children look highly strung, or their mother overly pert.

Then, yesterday, when the temperature was hovering near seventy and the leaves on the newly planted cherry tree in the front yard seemed to be growing in fast forward, right before my eyes, I saw the best stand ever.

Only it wasn’t for lemonade. It was for worms.

I was, as always, racing from one thing to another. I’d been staffing the afterschool writing help desk at Southwest High School, and then dashing home to pick up Mary Katherine and her friend Maggie, to head back across town for their rehearsal. I’d already made my five-minute warning call home, because we were running tight on time, and I had no idea what the traffic would be like on 94.

I was coasting down the Harriet hill, seconds from home, when I saw three little girls and an indulgent grownup, seated around a sign proclaiming, “Addie’s Worm Store. 5 cents.” The girls were hopping and squirming and generally doing their best wriggly worm imitations.

So of course I stopped.  I talked over the sale with them. I told them that one time, after a freak spring storm, Emma and Mary Katherine had at first tried to sell, and then give away, bags of hail.  In a land so short on irony, they had no takers.

But worms, I said, worms are better.  They agreed.

They assured me that all the worms, which were arrayed in tins that were set on – what else? – doilies, were 100% organic. I told them I wanted five extra-wriggly ones and I handed over my quarter. They picked out the best candidates, sprinkled some dirt in a snack bag, and handed over my purchase.

Yes, Mary Katherine was a little surprised when, before she got in the car, I handed her a bag and told her to free the worms right under that increasingly leafy cherry tree, where they could do the most good.  And yes, Eli, her director, called her cell phone when we were already 10 minutes late and still crawling along University Avenue.

Of course she told him that she was late because her mother had stopped to buy worms.  Being a true theater kid, he didn’t skip a beat. “Just get here as soon as you can because we need to run through the opening number,” he said.   

And we did.

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