SIDNEY UNDERWOOD - A Grantsville Lemonade Stand

By Sidney Underwood
It was the summer of 1953 and my family was living on Hardman Alley in Grantsville WV, which was located off Mill Street below the Rainbow Hotel. I was eleven years old as was my best buddy, Bill Umstead, who lived nearby on River Street.

What follows is a true story although some of the details are long forgotten. The story is based on an actual event.

During that summer of 1953, Bill and I had delivered two loads of junk in our Radio Flyer wagons to "Izzy" the junkman at the uppermost end of River Street. I think he gave us about $5.00 and we split the money and spent it on comic books at the drug store and movie tickets and frozen custard at the Kanawha Theatre.

We were hanging out on the porch at my house on a hot July day bemoaning the fact that we were without funds as there was a Gene Autry movie slated for the next Saturday at the theatre uptown. Gene Autry was my hero and I tried to catch all of his movies. I liked him better than Roy Rogers who also made a lot of movies.

I thought Roy was a sissy because he carried two six-shooters while Gene needed only one. Besides, Roy was much too pretty to be a real cowboy like Gene was. As far as singing ability, I thought they were about even, but I still gave the edge to Gene. My favorite Gene Autry song of all time was, "I'm Back In The Saddle Again." Also, I liked Gene's sidekick, Smiley Burnette, who resembled the Pillsbury Doughboy with a big hat; whereas, I couldn't understand Andy Devine as" Jingles" who was Roy's sidekick because he had such a gravelly voice.

Bill had actually gone to Charleston and seen Gene Autry in person with his wonder horse, Champion, the year before. When Bill returned, he told me all about Gene's singing, riding and roping abilities. I didn't get to go because I was not invited. Some friend! It still pains me today that my so called best friend did not invite me to go with him to see Gene Autry.

That afternoon we were tossing a football back and forth on the porch while keeping an eye on the alley and the occasional passerby. My concentration was interrupted when I saw Sandra Stump and I dropped the ball. She must have heard the noise because she looked up and said, "Hi, Sidney." As usual, I croaked a feeble response. She was looking really good that summer day. Bill and I leaned out over the railing and watched her until she was out of sight. Sandra was about four years older than us and we watched her every chance we got, especially in the summertime.

After we had composed ourselves, we started discussing various schemes to get some much needed cash. We remembered that scouring the river bank looking for junk had been hard work and we knew that picking it up had some inherent danger such as disturbing a snake when rummaging about in tall weeds. From personal experience I remembered that yellow jacket nests were always an unexpected hazard on the river bank as well.

Bill said it was too hot to hunt for junk and I agreed with him. He thought for a moment and then suggested that we could sell lemonade uptown. He said that he had sold lemonade the summer before in front of Strader's Store. He reminded me that Strader's had an awning that reached out over the sidewalk and we would be selling lemonade in the shade. He suggested that if we hurried, we could do it today before the stores closed. Bill said that we would split the money we made.

He told me to get some lemons {at least two} and come down to his house and we would shortly be in the lemonade business. He took off for home and I went into the house. I found two lemons in our refrigerator and was about to leave with them when my mother asked what I was doing. When I explained our business venture, she offered to make the lemonade for us. I told her that Bill had sold lemonade before and he was good at making it. She said that we should not use too much sugar as that would ruin the tartness. I remember as I left that she also warned me about being careful with the knives so we would not cut ourselves.

When I got to Bill's house, he was already in the kitchen. He had found his mother's cutting board and several kitchen knives. He motioned for me to start slicing the lemons. I started rolling the lemons on the cutting board because I remembered mother doing that when she made lemonade. Bill said that I was wasting time and needed to start cutting them. I carefully started cutting the lemons.

Bill watched for a moment and with a disgusted look on his face stated that I needed to hurry up. I repeated to him what my mother had said about being careful with knives. I told him I was not going to cut myself just to make a quick buck. Bill reached over and took the knife out of my hand and said, "Your mother doesn't need to worry about it because I have had more experience with a knife than she has."

He said we would be here all day at the rate I was going and everybody would have gone home by the time we were set up. With that statement, Bill started flailing away at the lemons and I saw them start rolling and jumping as if they were trying to get away from him. I knew that my mother would not approve of what he was doing, but I didn't say anything.

The juice started flowing off the cutting board and all over the counter. I grabbed a dishrag and tried to sop it up without losing my fingers to Bill's hacking motions. After the slashing and cutting stopped, we scooped up the lemon bits bare-handed and dumped them into a two and a half quart plastic pitcher. It was about that time with my hands really sticky that I realized I had not washed them before we started. When I asked Bill about this, he said that I worried too much and that the lemon juice, itself, would kill all the germs anyway. I knew that my mother would not approve of what he was doing, but I didn't say anything.

Bill filled the pitcher with tap water, set it on the counter and handed me a long handled wooden spoon. Next, he went to the sugar bin and came back with a large scoop full and dumped it into the pitcher. He told me to start stirring. I stirred as fast as I could for several minutes working hard with that wooden spoon, but when I stopped, the sugar particles slowly started drifting down. There was about a quarter inch of sugar covering the bottom of the pitcher.

Bill looked at the pitcher and told me to stir some more and I did. But, no matter how much I stirred, the sugar drifted to the bottom. Bill said we might have a problem but he would work through it. He went to the refrigerator and returned with a tray of ice. He dumped the ice into the mix and that caused some of it to spill over the sides of the pitcher. I grabbed the dishrag again and started cleaning the counter just like I had done before. I was afraid that Mrs. Umstead would not be happy when she came home from work and saw the condition of her kitchen and I thought it best to try to keep things tidy. Bill looked at me and said that I needed to concentrate on stirring and to stop cleaning the counter. So, I stirred some more with the same result.

Bill said not to worry about the undisolved sugar since it was on the bottom and the paying customers wouldn't see it anyway. He said that someone had to taste the lemonade to see if it was ok. I said that he should do it since he had more experience in making the stuff. He grabbed a glass and poured himself a small amount. He swallowed quickly and made a weird face. He said that the lemonade was either too sweet or didn't have enough lemons in it. He asked if I had more lemons at home.

When I replied that two lemons were all that could find, he asked about the dishrag. I told him I had left it in the sink as it was all sticky. I watched as Bill did the most amazing thing next. He picked up the dishrag and held it over the pitcher and squeezed it and the juice trickled down into the mix. That didn't seem right to me and I knew my mother would not approve of what he was doing, but I didn't say anything.

Bill looked at the kitchen clock and said that we needed to get uptown quickly as it was almost 2:00 pm. He told me to go out to his garage and find the wooden orange crate and burlap sack that he had used last year. That would be the "Stand" that we would place the lemonade on. I did as directed and after several minutes of looking around in the dark and dusty garage, I found the needed items and returned with them to the house. I asked about chairs for us. Bill looked at me like I was stupid and said that we would sit on the stone window ledges just like he had done last year. I asked Bill if we needed to get Mr. Strader's permission before we set everything up. Bill replied that I worried too much.

He said that Mr. Strader had not run him off last year and there was no reason to expect him to do it this time. I asked what we would charge for the lemonade. Bill said that we needed to charge a dime, but nobody would pay that, so we would charge a nickel for each cup. I asked how many cups we would need. Bill said that we would take ten with us and if we ran out, we could use the same ones over again. I knew my mother would not approve of what he was doing, but I didn't say anything.

We were sweating a lot after we had carried everything uptown and set up in front of Strader's Store. I stacked the cups carefully on the burlap that covered the orange crate and was about to place the pitcher on it when I noticed that all the ice had melted. I told Bill that our lemonade was not going to stay cold much longer. He looked at me again like I was stupid and said that if we sold out quickly, it would not be a problem.

Our first customer was a man who came out of Strader's Store. He might have been a salesman taking orders for the store. He was well dressed and carried a briefcase. He asked how much the lemonade was, and when we told him, he said that we needed to write "5 cents" on each cup so that people would not have to ask the price. He said that was the only way to do business. He drank one cup and set it down and said that the lemonade tasted rather unusual and certainly was sweet enough. He declined another cup. We had our first nickel and things were looking up. Bill told me to mind the store as he was going across the street to the Calhoun Super Service to use the bathroom and find a pen to mark the cups.

Sitting there alone, I watched as two ladies approached from the Ben Franklin Store. They stopped in front of the stand and one remarked as to how cute everything was. The other lady launched into a long ago story describing how she had sold lemonade back in the 1920's and how nice it was that the tradition was continuing. I nodded my head, smiled and listened politely to her rather long and boring story hoping she would at least buy some lemonade for old time's sake.

Boy, was I disappointed when she continued to chat about her childhood and headed across the street with her friend toward Gunn's Department Store and never bought any lemonade. It was apparent to me at 3:00pm in the afternoon, our business venture was not going well. We had been here almost an hour and had exactly one nickel to show for it.

After what seemed like a long absence, Bill returned with a pencil and marked the remaining cups. I asked him why he had been gone so long. He replied that he had been looking at the new Firestone bicycles at the Super Service. He asked about the sales so far and I showed him the nickel. He said that we had to do better than that. About that time, Bill saw someone that he recognized who might have been a neighbor and asked if he wanted some lemonade.

Whoever it was came over and put down a nickel and Bill filled his cup. That man took a sip and told Bill the lemonade didn't taste right and had what looked like soap suds in it. He wanted to know if we had put some of Mr. Umstead's rubbing alcohol into it. We both quickly said no at the same time. As that man was leaving, he told us that we shouldn't be selling the stuff because it might make people sick, especially if they had sensitive stomachs.

Bill watched as the man walked away and then leaned over toward me and said that guy was a "wise ass" and was just trying to give us a hard time.

In a matter of minutes our luck changed as several men stopped and ordered lemonade. I could tell by their appearance that they had been working hard and their clothes were damp with sweat. One of them tossed a quarter onto the stand and laughingly announced drinks for everybody. Bill filled their cups and they seemed to enjoy our lemonade although one of them said the taste was unusual. Another quarter was tossed down and they all had seconds. Things were really looking up for us. Finally, one of them announced that they needed to get back to the pipe yard and finish their work.

Bill and I were feeling pretty good about things when we saw his mother approaching. She stopped and asked about our luck so far. When we told her about the men who had just left, she put down a whole dollar! I reached for the lemonade that had turned almost a sickly white with the sugar visible on the bottom, and started hunting through the pile for a clean cup. She said that she was glad that we had made some money. After finding a clean cup, I filled it with the last of the lemonade and tried to hand it to her. She shook her head and said, "I'm sure you and Billy did a good job making this lemonade, but I'm not thirsty." She told Bill that she was going home to start supper.

Bill counted our money and we had exactly $1.60 in profits and one full cup of warm lemonade left. We had made enough money that we could go to the Gene Autry movie with some left over for frozen custard. Bill asked me if I wanted that last cup of lemonade and when I declined, he dumped it out on the sidewalk making a big splash and a sticky mess. I knew my mother would not approve of what he had done, but I didn't say anything.

Bill said that he was not about to drink the stuff and make himself sick. He handed me the quarters and nickels and pocketed the dollar his mother had given him. He said he would settle up with me later. We picked everything up and left.

When I got home, mother asked how our business venture had gone. I explained that we had made $1.60, but I told her we probably should have let her make the lemonade. She seemed pleased to hear that. I was not about to tell her all the details because she would certainly not approve of what we had done.