Thursday, April 09, 2009
When I was eight years old, my mother dressed my up in my big sisters Camp Fire Girl vest and sash and sent me down to the street to Mrs. Stutesman’s house to sell her one box of mint meltaways. It all started as I sat idly at the kitchen table, romancing the life of my older sister and her giggly girlfriends that bound around the house in bellbottom jeans, collared shirts and navy blue campfire vests with felt patterns ironed onto the back. At the last troop meeting, I crawled into the room and sat quietly at the back while a pretty lady with yellow hair presented sales tips for cookie season. I committed each tip to memory.
“Mom, why can’t I sell the Camp Fire cookies?” I asked her.
Mom was standing over the dishwasher, unloading last night’s dishes into the cabinets overhead. She didn’t bother to look up, “Because you aren’t a Camp Fire Girl and you aren’t old enough to be a Camp Fire Girl. When you are ready, you can join Blue Birds and when it’s time you can sell a million cookies. Okay?”
“I don’t want to be a blue turd.” That’s what my brother Erik called the little girls at school in the Navy bue skirts and short sleeved shirts that snapped up the front.
Mom sighed, she didn’t have much time for this conversation. She had six other children that would start coming into the kitchen any minute now, asking about dinner.
“Please mom. I just want to sell some cookies.”
Mom sighed. With one hand on her back and another putting a McDonalds Snoopy glass into the kitchen cabinet, she looked over at me.
“Why on earth would you want to sell those stupid things? Your father thinks we should just buy the case from your sister and keep her from asking our friends for money.”
“But mom, that’s not fair. All those other girls will be out their talking to people and telling them all about Camp Fire Girls and giving them yummy candies while Kay sits at home? That’s not fair. ”
Mom laughed and crossed the room to sit down next to me at the kitchen table. Back then, when mom was young, she smiled often and laughed from the belly, kicking back her head and making her breasts bounce up and down. She smelled like Jean Nate and cherry chapstick when she leaned over the table to brush the wispy blonde hairs from in front of my face.
“Well little Ms. Sunshine, you make a very interesting point. Do you want to tell someone all about Camp Fire Girls and eat yummy candies?”
I kicked myself off the chair and onto the floor so that she could understand the full force of my head nodding up and down, “Yes!”
Mom looked down at her watch. “Okay, well how about you bring one box over to Mrs. Stuetsman?”
I jumped in the air. “Okay, okay Mom. I’ll have to wear Kay’s sash though because I don’t have my own. And a Campfire Girl should always represent her sisters with pride.” I started up the stairs.
“And the vest too. Don’t forget the vest,” She called after me.
I skipped two stairs with each leap until I got to my sisters room and asked to borrow her vest. Kay barely looked up from her homework, “It’s on the floor in the corner. Don’t mess it up.”
I stood in the hall mirror, sash down to my knees, vest buttoned down below my hips, cardboard carton full of twenty-four boxes of cookies in my right hand, and a big Campfire smile across my face. Mom stood over me with a safety pin in her teeth while she tightened the sash around my waist. She put the pin in and cocked her head to the side to survey her work.
“We wouldn’t want it to fall off while you were walking.”
My heart was pounding blood through my body and I could feel the pulse in my fingertips. My cheeks turned red with anticipation and excitement.
“Hurry home my little Camp Fire Girl.” Mom waved at me as I bound down the front driveway and turned left towards Mrs. Stuetsman’s house.
Two hours later I arrived back home, a pocketful of cash and an empty cardboard cookie carrier.
After I visited Mrs. Stuetsman, I decided one more house wouldn’t hurt. With the money in my hand, I rationalized , “Just one more house and then I’ll go home.” But when the door opened and they leaned down to hear my sales pitch, I became the center of their world and I loved it. I smiled a toothless grin, they told me I was absolutely adorable and how could they resist. They asked me how much and I shrugged my shoulders. They gave me so much cash that it overflowed from my jeans with the cherry on the pocket. They invited me in to talk about Camp Fire Girls, open the cookies and let me have one. They patted me on the head when I left and told me I was a very good little saleswoman. And for two hours I was someone important, a Camp Fire Girl.
When I got home my mother was panicked. Then she saw the empty cardboard case and the pockets of cash and she suppressed her laughter. I had sold twenty-four boxes of Camp Fire cookies and earned my sister a new badge. After my Dad told me I was very naughty and should have done what I was told, my mother served me dinner and later tucked me into bed with a little kiss on the forehead.
“You are your mother’s daughter,” She said. And I didn’t know what it meant for many years. But I never forgot it.