When life gives you lemons

Many years ago, my daughter wanted to open a lemonade stand. Without a lot of thought, I assented. We made a quick pitcher of lemonade, I handed her some cups to go with it, and she scurried outside to set up shop.

About an hour later, my aunt and uncle arrived for dinner. They came in the house four dollars poorer, carrying cups of suspiciously light swill. It didn’t look like the drink we had made, so when my daughter came inside, I gave her the third degree on her business operations.

That little stinker had taken matters into her own hands. Rather than charging $0.25 per cup as agreed, she had increased the price to $2.00. She pressed her brother and the neighbor girl into service, with one flagging down cars and the other selling the drink door to door. When they ran out of lemonade, Miss Industrious simply inserted the hose into the empty pitcher and filled it with water–and continued to make sales. $2.00 for a cup of lemony-scented spigot water, and she was raking it in. While I secretly admired her industriousness, I questioned her business ethics.

The next time my daughter told me she wanted to open a lemonade stand, I was determined to make it a learning experience.

I agreed to let Miss Industrious restart her business, but on my terms. Rather than simply raiding my pantry, we went to the grocery store to buy cups and lemonade mix, as well as posterboard for her signs. Eight-ish dollars later, we trotted home with her supplies and an understanding that she had to repay me for the $8 business loan from her revenue. (She also knew that if she ran out of drink, she had to use the mix we bought to make more–no bait-and-switch tactics this time!)

The next morning with her signs lettered and her lemonade mixed, she was ready to sell. I gave her babysitter the rundown of my expectations, with instructions to keep Miss Industrious adherent to the rules. I went to work and left them to it.

When I returned, I asked how the day had gone. Miss Industrious proudly told me she had made twenty-something dollars. (I don’t remember the exact number.) Rather than congratulating her immediately, I reminded her that she owed me eight–she hadn’t “made” 20something, but rather 20something minus eight. The most important lesson, I thought, was the economic principle.

As usual, I was wrong.

Instead of handing me eight dollars, Miss Industrious handed me all her money. You see, I was preparing to participate in a charity bike ride to benefit cancer research.* The event requires several thousand dollars per rider in fundraising, and her plan all along had been to help me raise money. Here, Mom, she said. It’s all for you. It’s for the PMC.

If she learned a lesson that day, I learned a bigger one.

I may have taught her economics, but she taught me heart.

*If you haven’t heard of the Pan-Mass Challenge, check it out at pmc.org. I don’t ride anymore–192 miles in two days are too much for my knees–but the event remains no less worthy. In fact, it’s pretty amazing.

Do the right thing

I’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19. Statistically, my risk of becoming seriously ill with the disease is very low, even with the Delta variant that has become so pervasive. I also live in a state that has not been very forceful about pandemic restrictions. If you look around, you probably wouldn’t realize we are *still* navigating a pandemic. All this translates to minimal (personal) risk and no real restrictions.

Nonetheless, I wear a mask in most indoor situations.

I’ve been thinking about how I would answer the question of why. The short answer is simply that I think it’s important. If that’s all you want to know, feel free to move along now. If you want the long answer, buckle up and read on.

When my grandmother was 27 years old with three children under age four, she contracted polio. In an instant, her duties as a wife and mother gave way to survival. Friends, family, and neighbors fed her family, cared for her children, and did her chores. She fought like h*ll against being put into an iron lung because she firmly believed she wouldn’t survive the disease if that happened. Nonetheless, she spent several weeks in the hospital while her kids (my mom and two siblings) were shuttled from place to place. My uncle remembers a time when he stood outside the hospital while he watched his mom be rolled out to a fire escape platform in a wheelchair. All she could muster was a weak wave.

Eventually Grandma won her fight, but she wrestled with the lingering effects of the disease for years.

After polio, Grandma gave birth to three more children, served as a US postmaster, ran a farm with my grandpa, and traveled the world. She lived a full life, but she never forgot the fear that polio brought. After she recovered, she still carried that fear for her children.

Until the vaccine.

One of my aunts recalls when my grandma—her mom—took her to get vaccinated against polio. She remembers the vaccination site with tables full of cups that held sugar cubes carrying the oral vaccine. Mostly she remembers that my grandma cried as she experienced the emotional release of knowing her children would not have to suffer the way she had.

I got that vaccine, and so did my kids. They don’t even know what polio is, though. Why? Because there hasn’t been a case of polio that originated in the US since 1979. There has not been a case of polio in this country in their lifetimes. Heck, there hasn’t been one for most of mine.

So what does this have to do with me wearing a mask? As long as we let COVID-19 continue to spread by eschewing the vaccine AND basic precautions like masks, it will continue to mutate and elude our efforts to eradicate it. Mounting evidence shows that even if my vaccinated self doesn’t get sick, I can still carry enough viral load to spread it to others. The more it spreads, the more mutates. The more it mutates, the less effective the existing vaccine becomes. The less effective the vaccine, the more the virus spreads. And the cycle continues.

We will never get rid of COVID-19 the way we did polio and smallpox (yes! I have that telltale vaccination scar) unless we stop spreading it. I want this scourge out of my life, and I’m going to do everything I can NOT to be the person who passes it on.

I’m not living in fear. I’m not even worried that much anymore about getting sick. I want to see this thing disappear and I’m going to do my part. It’s not impossible. My grandma saw it with polio in her lifetime. Nobody is telling me to; it’s just the right thing to do.

Now you know why I wear a mask.