I was born trying to sell stuff. I probably appeared in the delivery room yelling, “Can I interest anyone in a slightly used placenta?” Before I could talk, I toddled around singing commercial jingles—recognizable not from the lyrics, but the tunes. I did not know the meaning of the word “shy.” No one was a stranger to me. They were, no doubt, all potential customers.
It shouldn’t have surprised anyone then that, as soon as I could thread together a convincing sentence, I wanted to sell something—anything. It wasn’t just that I liked money, though I certainly did, it was the idea of supplying some sort of demand, the fame and satisfaction that came from giving people something they really wanted. My sharp little eyes were always on the lookout for a marketable item.
One of the first things I remember considering for retail was a treasure I found in a local slough behind my Gram’s house. (For those of you who don’t know what a slough is, it is like a marshy puddle in the middle of a field, commonly referred to these days as A Wetland.) This slough drew me like a magnet. Part of its intrigue was the rumors that surrounded it. We kids were told that a man had wandered into the center of the slough and drowned. Another man had tried to save him and he drowned, too. Naturally, that drove me to get close enough to find out. My fear of water, and subsequent terrible swimming skills, kept me skirting around the perimeter for years, just enough to soak my tennis shoes and startle up a stray duck or two. One day, as I was crawling around the bog on my hands and knees, I saw something that nearly made my heart stop with joy. There, in one rather large puddle, were tiny golden creatures swimming and shimmering in the water. I watched them for a long time wondering what they could be. And then it hit me: Here lay untold riches that were mine for the taking! I ran home to get an ice cream pail and lid and convinced several neighborhood children to join me. We laid on our bellies for hours (well, I did—the others lost interest in the summer heat and went home despite my promises of wealth) lowering the plastic lid just under the surface of the water and quickly drawing it up again when the gold critters navigated across the top of my trap then I dumped my precious cargo into the pail and started over: Dip and dump, dip and dump. When the pail was fairly bursting with life, I headed off to the local bait shop and proudly displayed my catch to the proprietor.
“Baby goldfish! I’m going to sell them.” I could barely contain my excitement as I brushed my sweaty bangs back from my sunburned face.
He leaned in for a closer look. “Oh, those aren’t goldfish!” he proclaimed, suppressing a smile. “They’re mosquito larvae.”
“Mosquito larvae?! There can’t be any kind of demand for mosquito larvae,” I thought with a sinking heart and even redder cheeks. “Even if they do look amazing the way they wiggle in the water.” I trudged sadly back to the slough and dumped the larvae back into their puddle—so they could live to reproduce and make more mosquitoes.
Another day, I was tramping through that same slough into the woods beyond, kicking up the piles of dead leaves that covered the ground. My foot kicked something hard and I bent down to inspect it. Not only did I love every living thing that crept upon the earth, I also had a great fascination for rocks and was always looking to add to my collection. But what was this? A lump of something rough and pock-marked, dark gray in color. “A moon rock?” I hoped, my breath coming in short gasps. Visions of Apollo space missions filled my head. Not likely. “Pieces of a volcano?” I wondered next, but no…there wasn’t so much as a hill for miles around. Suddenly I realized what I was holding in my hands—a real live, genuine FOSSIL!! I dropped to the ground and starting digging. There were more! The fossils were everywhere! Surely they were worth a lot of money, or at least fame for having found them. A museum would probably want to buy them from me and I’d be on the news! I spent the whole afternoon digging and piling up the precious remnants of the past before I decided I needed to go home for supper. I piled brush on top of my treasure to conceal it and took just one along with me. I could hardly wait to show it to my dad. He took the fossil and turned it over in his hands before announcing that I’d spent the day gathering worthless coal cinders, not priceless fossils.
Probably the worst deception I ever experienced in my quest for riches occurred one mild winter day. I was outside playing with the neighbor boys when we discovered an amazing thing on top of a snow bank that lay against the garage. Small, perfectly round SEEDS of some sort, the size of peas. I ran to the house for a Wonder Bread bag and we spent most of the morning collecting handfuls of the special seeds, speculating how we’d sell them in the spring and make loads of money. Some of the seeds were compact and damp. Others burst into powder if you squeezed them too hard. “Be careful with them,” I warned the guys.
When I went in to lunch, I pulled off my frozen mittens, wiped my nose on my shirtsleeve, and took a handful of seeds out of the bag to show my mom. “Those aren’t SEEDS, Dawn Marie,” she chided. “That is rabbit poop! Now go wash your hands!” Another dream dashed…
Every summer we used to go to a cabin on Lake Darling in Alexandria that belonged to my great-grandma’s sister. I loved going to visit Aunt Victoria and Uncle Fred in their cozy little house that was like a museum. It was so clean and filled with knickknacks and doilies on all the furniture. Whenever I had to use the bathroom, I’d take my time—admiring the spare toilet paper rolls sporting their own knit sweaters as they waited on the back of the toilet. Then I’d sneak a peak into the adjacent master bedroom to stare at a clown-faced doll in the middle of the neatly made chenille bedspread. My aunt had made this doll with a plastic face and bendy limbs made of bunched up, satiny fabric. I thought the doll was fascinatingly scary and never missed an opportunity to thrill myself by looking at it.
But the best part of any visit to the cabin was getting to see my cousin Bobby Jensen, who was the only grandson of my aunt and uncle. He lived with his parents and two older sisters far away in The Cities and everything about him delighted me. Blond with brilliant blue eyes, flawless teeth, and a deep tan, Bobby was younger than me, but a perfect playmate with his charming, sanguine personality. His two older sisters, Jane and Janet, were equally darling and nice, but they mostly wanted to lay around and work on their tans and talk about boys—things that held no appeal for us. So Bobby and I found our own fun. We’d start out at the kitchen counter, eating Aunt Victoria’s homemade raised doughnuts and drinking Kool-Aid out of tall, aluminum tumblers. I can still smell the rusty well-water, the tang of the Kool-Aid, and the taste and feel of the cold aluminum cup against my teeth. I would drain my glass, lick all the icing off my fingers and try my best to look hungry, hoping someone would offer me a second doughnut. To my knowledge, they never did.
Then, Bobby and I headed off to the Great Outdoors. On this particular day, we were poking around the grassy bank of the lake, digging our toes into the sand wondering what to do first. Skip stones? Look for clam shells or lucky red rocks? I always tried to distract Bobby from the idea of actual swimming since I didn’t want him to know I was scared of the water, so I was off the hook when a frog suddenly leaped out of the grass and dove into the water. I immediately thrust my hands into the shallows and held the animal aloft, frog pee running down my wrist, as it struggled to get away.
“Isn’t he a beaut?” I exclaimed, stroking the clammy head between its bulging eyes, feeling its heart pounding against my thumb as it struggled to get away. Bobby agreed that he was a keeper. Just then another frog leaped into view. And another.
“Holy cow—they’re everywhere!” Bobby shouted, as excited as I was.
“Run and get the minnow bucket,” I yelled as I quickly snatched another frog with my free hand. “Hurry!”
My younger sister, Renee, came over to see what we were doing. “Catching frogs,” I scowled, thrusting one into her face and she leaned away, matching my look. “Leave us alone.” I wasn’t about to share my darling Bobby with her or have her horn in on the fortune we were going to make when we sold these frogs to a bait shop…or maybe a science lab.
I don’t know how many hours we slogged up and down the beach that day, waving at neighbors who were out fishing and doing lawn work, completely oblivious to our blatant trespassing and poaching, but I think our grand tally for the day was close to one hundred frogs. We sat down on the dock to inspect our captives. They were literally standing on each other’s faces, trying to get air, desperate to escape. We discussed what to do next. If we sold them to a bait shop, they’d die. If we sold them to a science lab, they’d be tortured and experimented on…and [gulp] dissected. There was only one thing to do: We opened the trap door of the metal bucket and set them all free. And a glorious exodus it was, too, with one hundred leopard-printed amphibians of every size clamoring for freedom. It had been a good day, even if we weren’t any richer for our labor. One of these days, I was going to strike it rich—I knew it. If I could just find something to sell...