I’m not entirely sure what inspired my sister and me to open a lemonade stand back in '99. It may have been an episode of one of our favorite TV shows, Arthur or The Magic School Bus, or a Junie B. Jones book. Or maybe just summer boredom.
We spent the morning squeezing lemons, filling pitchers, and designing our signage. After debating between charging 50 or 25 cents per glass, we decided to start low and increase with demand. We set up our small table and chairs on a strip of sidewalk right in front of our house, and waited. And waited. And waited.
See, technically, we lived in a neighborhood. But we were the only house in it.
My parents built our house in what was a cow field just months before. My hometown of Lafayette, Louisiana was booming with new neighborhoods, and the property developer promised that a flood of families were about to buy nearby lots. But it wasn't until four years after we moved in that we finally got neighbors: an elderly couple who spent most of the year traveling.
Being a neighborhood of one wasn’t terrible. We picked blackberries in undeveloped lots to make jam, learned to ride bikes without a thought of incoming cars, and even pulled off pony rides for my 6th birthday—all while living in the middle of a 120,000-person city.
But my parents wanted my sister and me to experience all of the “normal” parts of childhood that come with having, you know, neighbors. They threw Fourth of July parties in city parks, encouraged us to plan big sleepovers, and chauffeured us to our old neighborhood for trick-or-treating. They put up Christmas decorations that only we would see.
And when my sister and I insisted on opening a lemonade stand, they magically pulled customers out of a hat.
It wasn’t sophisticated, mind you. My mom just bought several glasses of 25-cent lemonade with different accents. She was:
- an elderly woman;
- a tourist from London;
- a Russian spy;
- and a Southern belle, among many others.
We’d answer questions about our ingredients and method as she developed each character, pretending that our lemonade inspired Beanie Baby–like mania. Between my mom and dad, I think we made $2 that day. Enough to empty one pitcher.
Honestly, I wasn’t disappointed. It was just a fun summer afternoon outside with my mom and sister (Dad stopped by after work). Sure, we never set up shop again, but the failure wasn’t as bitter as you’d think.
That lemonade stand taught me to take ownership of an idea, to try something I believed in. It was a venture where my sister and I worked as a team, sharing responsibilities and the (small) sweet rewards. It didn't turn out like I imagined—no lines down the block or piles of cash—but it was a safe environment in which to stumble. Unlike today, where lemonade stands are being shut down by law enforcement, the stakes were low.
When I think about that lemonade stand, almost 20 years later, I realize one more lesson: how much my parents loved us. Through their own creativity and encouragement, they turned our one-house neighborhood into the perfect place to grow up.
Did you ever have a lemonade stand? Share your stories in the comments below!