The July sun scorches as Katie and I sit on my front porch watching the ice cubes in our Kool-Aid melt.
“I am so hot,” whines Katie.
“I am so bored,” I add.
We’re 10, which means we’re too old to play with the little kids down the street, but not old enough to go to the pool alone. Katie wipes her glasses, which have fogged up in the heat, and makes a face like she’s about to complain. “I wish we had money,” she exclaims in frustration. “Rich people are never bored.”
“Well, maybe we could make some,” I say.
We sit thinking and sipping our watered-down drinks, tossing ideas back and forth. “Let’s babysit!” I exclaim, feeling brilliant.
“Yeah, right,” Katie grunts. “We still have babysitters, and you still can’t reach the top cabinets. I have to go to church in a little while, anyways.”
“That’s it!” I shriek. “Let’s sell something church people would buy!”
Katie, a good Catholic girl, looks at me horrified. “I don’t know ... and anyways I don’t have a bunch of crosses lying around my house, and you definitely don’t.”
“We just have to make something up. Stop being boring; this is why we never have anything to do,” I snap.
“Fine, why don’t we just paint crosses on some rocks then,” she sarcastically remarks.
Immediately I think the idea is genius. Our neighbors buy Girl Scout cookies, Boy Scout popcorn and everything PTA-related. How could they say no to two adorable girls selling Jesus rocks?
I convince Katie that her idea is perfect, and we immediately start collecting rocks. We snatch them out of our neighbors’ driveways and yards, and we even steal a few fancy ones from my little brother’s hermit crab cage. Next, we sneak up to Katie’s room and start painting tiny crosses on each rock.
“You know you have to do all the talking,” Katie says, starting to sound nervous. “I hate talking to strangers, plus you’re a better liar.”
“Thanks ... I guess,” I murmur as I continue painting and try to come up with a convincing speech.
One hour later, our rocks are dry and we’re ready to go. I’ve practiced my sales pitch and I feel confident. I’m trying to chill Katie out because she’s already trying to back out. “I can’t skip church to do this,” she whines.
“Yes, you can — it’s only Wednesday school. Pick up your rocks and let’s go!”
Down the street we go. The whole time I’m nagging Katie. “Keep your eyes up, don’t forget to smile, do not freak out when we’re up there, and please just don’t talk a lot,” I bark.
The first house we decide to hit is three down from mine. The father always sells his church’s fruitcake to us at Christmas, so we already know he’s our target consumer. Walking up the stairs, we take a big breath and fight over who has to ring the doorbell. Of course, I end up doing it. “Hello, sir!” I beam. “Good afternoon,” Katie awkwardly spits out.
I begin: “We’re here from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and we’re selling Jesus rocks. All the money goes to a local charity. The rocks are for anytime you’re feeling down or having a hard day. It lets you know you have a steady rock to lean on. ... The Lord.”
My speech was flawless, and I can even see Katie relax as if she’s beginning to believe what I’m selling. The man hands us a $5 bill, and we let him pick out his rock. Holy smokes! That was too easy. After the first house, things get easier, Katie loosens up, and we end up staying out until it’s almost dinner. We’re having so much fun we’re not even counting all the money we’re making. It isn’t until we get home that we realize we made $60!
“Oh, my God, we have too much money,” Katie screeches. “We have to hide it ... in your house.”
Realizing we earned $60 felt frightening and exhilarating all at once. I knew I couldn’t waltz into my house with that much cash. Thinking in a panic, we shove the money into my bicycle basket, then throw it under the water heater in my garage. Whew! Problem solved.
Forty-five minutes later, during dinner, my father explains that we will be conducting a thorough clean-out of the garage tomorrow morning. My face goes pale and my mind races. “Sam,” my mom says, breaking my trance, “we’re going to need your help, too, so don’t make plans with Katie tomorrow morning.”
The next morning while we’re cleaning, my mother stumbles across the cash. The conversation that follows is a blur of my mom and dad screaming and making disapproving faces. I practically black out from embarrassment. It takes my parents an hour to complete their tirade. I’m left in disbelief replaying their harsh words. “How could you do this to our neighbors?” “You’re a practicing Jew! Oy vey ... when your grandmother finds out about this!” “You’re practically a criminal!”
After realizing we could never give all the money back to the neighbors, my mother decided I would donate it to a local organization. Walking up to the smiling woman at Goodwill, I feel my face flush with shame. She smiles at my mom and says it isn’t every day she meets such a charitable 10-year-old. I begin sweating in disgrace.
That night as I sulk up the stairs two hours earlier than my normal bedtime — my only punishment — I stop at the top to listen to my parents talk. “I hate to admit I’m equal parts mad as I am impressed with her,” my mother stated.
“At least we know she’ll never starve,” my father laughed.
I smile quietly and tiptoe to bed.
WHAT THE JUDGES SAID
Erin Jackson: I liked this one, because I know how satisfying it is to escape punishment by winning your folks over with your cleverness. It rocks. Just like Jesus.
Steve Friedman: It’s specific and unexpected: “too old to play with the little kids down the street, but not old enough to go to the pool alone.” Unsparing in owning up to deviousness. Nice, simple language. I believed the 10-year-old voice.
This adventure was a turning point in Samantha Mann ’s young life. “It was the first time I felt very adult, taking initiative, trying to bring in money for myself — and it just was wrong ” she says. “You realize you’ve got to make ethical decisions, as part of being an adult.” The stunt was grist for the former college journalist to use to get back to writing, which she wishes she could do more often. Now 24, from Centreville, she is a psychologist intern for a local public school system.
— David Montgomery
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