Birth of a Salesman

It’s that time of year again when school fundraising sales campaigns are in full bloom. It’s the time of year when neighborhood children are about as popular as head lice and moms spend their weekends trudging said children from doorstep to doorstep, silently promising themselves a nice, big glass of wine and sole possession of the remote control when the day is finally through. Out of all the things I’ve pulled out of my kids’ backpacks over the years, I don’t think there was anything that scared me more as pulling out a hot pink sheet of paper announcing, gulp, yet another fundraiser.

While I understand why the schools need to resort to fundraisers, I also have to say that the day our sons graduated from the public school system and were no longer be called upon to help prop up sagging budgets with their generally futile attempts at selling was a very good day indeed.

Our oldest son introduced us to the dreaded world of candy bar sales the second day of kindergarten when he came home with an enormous cardboard box filled to the brim with chocolate bars along with a brochure that explained his job was to sell those candy bars and win points for his class and possibly “fabulous prizes” for himself. He already had his “fabulous prize” picked out: a teeny, tiny radio that promised “stereo quality sound.” To win such an awesome prize, he needed to sell a mere four hundred candy bars.

After a few hours of doing the door-to-door bit under the hot September sun with the chocolate bars melting and my nerves fraying, Son Number One was more than ready to retire from the glamorous world of door-to-door sales and I was more than ready to buy him is own teeny, tiny radio with no strings—or candy bars—attached.

When the candy bar sales were over, novice that I was, I assumed that we were done selling for the year. Not quite. From candy bars we segued into popcorn. November brought wreaths to unload, and in December it was pizzas. January and February gave us a few months off for good behavior or perhaps bad weather. Finally, the last call came in the spring in the form of magazine subscriptions that were sent home with thoughtful instructions to try and sell them to out-of-state relatives and friends, undoubtedly because even the school administrators realized by that point that small children knocking on neighborhood doors in our town were no longer greeted with smiles but with grimaces. When school let out in June, everyone on the block breathed a sigh of relief as they were finally able to let their checkbooks cool off.

I have often wondered what the point of having children sell things—other than the obvious—might be. To teach initiative? That seemed fairly doubtful to me especially since I had to practically sandblast our kids out of the house to get them going on their sales route. As an opportunity to teach children the fine art of door-to-door salesmanship? I never saw that happening, not with my children at any rate. Even after several years of selling, both of my sons still rang the doorbell and then darted back to the safety of the sidewalk, leaving me standing alone to face the hapless homeowner who answered the door. Their sales pitch was delivered in tones that only a passing ant could hear and I always suspected that they sold more on the pity factor than anything else. Willie Loman never had anything to fear from either of my offspring.

Of course, they come by their lack of salesmanship honestly. I still recall wandering around our neighborhood alone (parents didn’t accompany their offspring on sales outings in those days), a timid 8-year-old with my Girl Scout cookies sales sheet clutched in one sweaty hand as I tried to work up the nerve to ring at least one doorbell with the other. The pity factor helped my sales record exponentially, although I’m sure the Thin Mints didn’t hurt. Selling anything has never come naturally to me so it was hardly a surprise when neither of our children ever showed an inclination toward becoming the next Salesperson of the Year.

Thankfully, those days are over. Our sons are out of high school and when they got their diplomas, I graduated from pushing my last pail of popcorn, my final fudge nut medley, my closing cache of candles. To paraphrase Scarlett O’Hara, with the PTO president as my witness, I’ll never help sell candy bars again.

Until the grandkids come along, that is.

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