“You’re selling what?”

Earlier this week, I forked over $35 for a Boston butt. Though obscenely overpriced and not even in my top ten choices of what’s for dinner, I gladly handed over the check to the dimple-faced neighborhood tween standing tentatively on my front porch. He’d just rehearsed a line from his fundraising script that informed me the butt would be “whole, and delivered warm.”

Can’t say that about a pedicure, a nice Oregon Pinot, or any other $35-ish purchases I’d have preferred to make. Instead, I paid this jacked up price for the other white meat, flanked by two children staring up at the “big kid” who had just gotten Mommy to go for her wallet.

As he wrapped up his sales pitch (reminding us how our purchase would support the local middle school choir, and their upcoming trip to Disney World), it clicked.

This was not just a gesture of goodwill to one of the sweet neighborhood kids.

This was about paying it forward.

Year after year (circa the late 1980s), I hit up most every homeowner within a five-mile radius of my parents’ house. I’d tread up and down the hilly neighborhood streets, lifting as many door knockers and ringing as many bells as my tween-age stamina could muster, returning the next day to pick up where I left off. Chocolates, wrapping paper, it didn’t really matter. As my mom once told a childhood friend, “Give Rebecca anything, and she’ll sell 100 of them.”

By middle school, I’d dialed nearly the entire member directory of Vestavia Hills United Methodist Church, imploring anyone who answered to buy a box of Florida navel oranges and grapefruit in support of the New Life Singers choir tour. (My pitch to close ratio always soared on Sunday afternoons, when folks were likely to be home, that morning’s sermon still fresh in their minds).

Long after delivery day, which consisted of pimple-faced youth shuffling awkwardly packaged boxes of fruit from the delivery truck to the trunks of our “customers” cars, the whole affair was a transaction forgotten.

I think it always caught them a little off guard when I’d greet them by name in the days and weeks that followed.

“Hi, Mr. Balch! Hi, Mrs. Wolff!”

Polite smile. Blank stare.

“I’m Rebecca. I sold you grapefruit. Remember?”

Light bulb. Recognition. And perhaps a trace of “Hey kid. Lose my number.”

For all those who patiently stood in their doorways while I stammered through my sales pitch, for all those who didn’t hang up on me when I tried to sell them a box of Florida sunshine, for all those who made it possible for me to participate in choir tours that cost my parents not one red cent, thank you.

I’ll be paying it forward in Boston butts and then some.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. I actually sold Girl Scout Cookies one year. After that, my Mom couldn’t stand the commercialism. I stopped asking the grandparents – any of them – for support if my kids were selling things. It’s kind of frustrating, because my husband’s folks all bought things from the older cousins. His sisters, whose kids sales we all shopped, didn’t buy from us. My Dad is dead broke. And my Mom’s response was a very honest, “Can I just send a check?” (And she did. But the kids didn’t want to hear that, and it felt weird.) So we stopped asking From an emotional standpoint, I hate asking for things. Hate it. And to put my kids in the position of getting turned down by family was way too much to be worthwhile.

    We take your pay-it-forward attitude in the hopes that someday our grandkids won’t be this frustrated. But we made the decision that we would support Scott’s nieces and nephew because we love them, we would buy what we could, when we could ourselves, and we would try hard not turn away the neighbor kids at the doors. More than that, we volunteer at the school to show our support, as warm bodies often trump sales money in a crisis anyway.

    I do hate fundraisers. I understand the need. But I can’t stand it in the same breath. But I hate teaching kids the importance of marketing so young, when they don’t know people are buying from them largely out of guilt anyway. I don’t like making them think that a sales-oriented culture is an okay thing. Except, at a purely realistic level, we LIVE in a sales oriented culture, and I need to get over myself.

    Conflicted much, Jessie? 🙂

    1. rwalden77 says:

      Articulately stated, Jessie!

      I think the enduring lesson for kids who take an active role in fundraising is this:

      Hard work matters.
      Getting outside your comfort zone matters.
      Learning how to be gracious when someone tells you “no” matters.

      And perhaps most importantly, it matters that children understand their “extracurriculars” are not free. These experiences come to them at a considerable cost to their parents. If selling fill-in-the-blank becomes a teaching moment for that child to learn gratitude and appreciation, it’s an endeavor I can get behind.

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