When I was about 10 years old, I had plans of becoming a millionaire by the time I reached 12.
My same-aged neighbor kid had a morning newspaper route and he bragged to me about the money he made. I didn’t doubt his tales of wealth – he seemed to have a never-ending supply of pennies with which to buy baseball cards.
Of course, I had my own source of income. My dad "hired" me to sweep the upstairs hallways and study hall of the old Alleman School. He paid me 20 cents a day – a dollar a week – to do the chore. In itself, that was pretty good pay when you could buy a candy bar for three cents, a Pepsi for six cents and a chocolate sundae at the B&F Café (better known as "Bessie’s") for a dime.
You still had money left to buy several penny baseball cards. If you wanted to splurge, you could buy a seven-pack for a nickel. Rarely, however, did any of us splurge on those seven-packs. It was better to buy them one at a time because each card came with a sugary flat piece of bubble gum (if you bought seven, you still only got one piece of gum).
But, I wasn’t satisfied with my 20 cents a day.
So, I began devising ways of earning enough money to make me a millionaire, even though I had no idea just what a millionaire was. I only knew it involved more money than you could earn at 20 cents a day.
Of course, a boy couldn’t spend all his money on baseball cards, candy bars, Pepsis and chocolate sundaes. There were other things in life that were important, too.
Like comic books.
It was while reading one of those that I came across an advertisement urging kids to sell Cloverine Salve door to door. ("Hey, kids. Want to earn some extra cash?")
Get some of that stuff, I reasoned, and I’d be on my way to endless fortune.
If memory serves, 12 tins of Cloverine Salve came in each box. Three boxes, I figured, would be a good number to order – not too few, not too many in a town with less than 150 inhabitants.
I couldn’t wait until my shipment of Cloverine arrived. I’d soon be on my way to independent wealth. Shoot, I might even help my parents out with a new car, or buy my mom some diamonds (diamonds are a girl’s best friend, aren’t they?).
After what seemed an eternity, the first box of salve arrived. I imagined many, many more orders – perhaps even a truckload – would follow.
Cloverine Salve seemed like the perfect business enterprise for a 10-year-old. After all, not only were you selling the salve, but each sale included the purchaser’s choice of beautiful home decorations. Bright blue heavy cardboard pieces with silver sparkle on each (with things like "Home Sweet Home" and "God Bless This House") were given absolutely free to anyone who bought a tin of salve.
Who wouldn’t want one of those? And, they were absolutely free with purchase.
The first day, I think, I sold three tins of salve. By the time I’d canvassed the entire town (skipping old man Petefish, who wouldn’t even return a kid’s baseball if it came over his fence), my sales had totaled five. By the time, I hit up my aunts and uncles, I sold perhaps one box of the three I’d ordered.
I did have one multiple sale. My mom bought two.
Forget the trucks. Forget the million dollars.
Oh, well, there has to be a better way to make a buck.
That’s about the time I saw an ad in a comic book about earning extra money by selling the Grit newspaper.
Fifteen of those ought to be enough for my first order, I thought.
The same people who’d bought Cloverine Salve from me earlier were the ones who bought my newspapers. The Grits my parents bought ended up on the shelf next to the Cloverine Salve.
I think they just felt sorry for me. Fifteen years later, after I’d finished high school, college and a stint in the Army – still seeking my first million – I returned home for a week.
Looking for something to eat, I opened the pantry. There on the shelf were the dreams of my first million – two tins of Cloverine Salve and a stack of Grit newspapers.