Some years ago, my daughter, Annie, told us about a little boy selling brownies at the annual fife-and-drum parade in our town. His mother went into a store, leaving him in charge. Some girls came by and handed him 5 cents. He gave them their brownie and 25 cents in change.

I laughed so hard hearing this story that my eyes leaked and my voice squeaked as I acted out the scene for my family: “Come and get it! A great deal! A brownie plus 20 cents, only a nickel!” I bent over, slapping my knees, crying and laughing to the point where the girls and my husband looked perplexed.

One week later, we became vendors at the fife-and-drum-parade with a rented ice-cream cart. We didn’t sell enough to turn a profit. We might as well have been that little boy, blithely expending more than he took in while working for several hours. We took in $296.60 in ice-cream sales. But the freezer rental cost $192.30 and the ice-cream itself about $200. So we lost about $95 and we had a freezerful of ice-cream which we would serve our friends for the rest of the year. The brownie-selling boy handed out his losses directly. We took ours home. I say “we,” but I conceived and directed the ice-cream vending project. My husband and two daughters reluctantly helped. The ice-cream we took home would have brought in a few hundred dollars more, if customers had bought it. If we’d sold it all, we could have turned a profit of a few hundred.

At the time, I didn’t see the lesson in the little boy, except I did write this story down a few days after the loss. I told myself that standing with the ice-cream cart was a better way to spend our day at the parade than just holding our ears as the cannons went off. I told myself that working had put us in touch with the community in a way that just watching the parade did not.

But if someone had charged me $95 to give my family some community, I would have thought it was too expensive. I would have thought it as absurd as selling a brownie for a nickel and giving the customer 25 cents’ change. Finally, a few months later, I sold a story about our unprofitable ice-cream vending project to the Hartford Courant, earning $350, thus netting $260 on the ice-cream venture.

Moral: Stick with what you know how to do. If you know how to write, write. If you know how to sell food to parade-goers, do that.

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