A shiny quarter, a stack of Grit magazines, and a cranky old lady

When I told my mom that I wanted a job, she never laughed at me and told me what a silly idea it was for an eight-year-old girl. Instead, she opened the world of newspapers to me by suggesting that I sell Grit Magazine door to door in our small neighborhood which was then on the outskirts of Albuquerque.

The newspaper was an important part of our family – almost as important as the Bible, but not quite. Actually, not by a long shot, but it did often occupy the same real estate on my father’s ottoman of a morning as he sipped his first cup of coffee. After finding a bit of encouragement in the Good Book, he read the newspaper cover to cover. And when he hurried off to work, it was my mother’s turn to sit with the paper at the kitchen table. So selling a small, monthly newspaper that had already been in production for almost a century seemed like the perfect first job to me.
I remember my first time out on my route. I knocked on the door of an elderly lady up the street and asked her if she’d like to buy the Grit Magazine in my wagon for only a quarter (already counting up the number of Tootsie Rolls I could buy with the ten cents profit I would make from her purchase). But she stopped me cold.
“What’s in the newspaper, young girl?”
What was in it? I didn’t read it. It was for old people. I stammered and stuttered an answer. “I don’t really know.”
She gave me a hard look and barked, “Then you’d better learn your first lesson about selling anything. If you want to get somebody else to buy what you’re selling, then you’d best know what you’re talking about. You need to read that thing from cover to cover so you can get excited and tell me all about it so I want my own copy.”
And as she started to close the door, she left a parting shot of hope. “Now you go home and read that magazine, young lady, and then come back. When you can tell me why I should buy it, you come back and ring my door bell.”
I didn’t try to sell any more newspapers that day. Instead, I fought back the tears and swallowed hard all the way back down the street. And then I grabbed one of the Grit newspapers off the top of the stack, found a nice shady spot under our tree, and started reading. There were stories about a dog herding a flock of sheep past a bear and on to safety, growing the biggest heirloom tomatoes in your garden, and tidbits of history. Personal essays found space alongside how-to articles. And I was captivated by it all, devouring it that afternoon from cover to cover.
The next day after school, I loaded up my wagon, and with renewed purpose marched up the driveway and rang the doorbell of the woman who had sent me home in tears. She seemed a bit surprised I’d returned, and after I told her why she needed to buy one of my Grit Magazines, she tottered away from the door. I watched her long, gnarled fingers struggle with her change purse and graciously accepted the proffered quarter held out to me. I thanked her and hurried off to the next house.
I sold my entire stack of magazines and ordered more for the next issue. And when it came, I read it cover to cover before I left the house. And sold out again.
It was a valuable lesson I learned that day, one that has served me well many times since then. She seemed like such a crank at the time, but I know now that the grouchy lady down the street was doing me a favor. And I wish I could thank her, but I think the skip in my step as I walked down her driveway was probably all the thanks she needed to know she’d done the right thing.
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