By: Richard D. Hartwell
It must have been about 1955 or ‘56 when I was first a procurer for my cousin Jocelyn. I don’t recall whose idea it was to sell from door to door, but it fell to me to gather myriad shells from the beach where I lived, and transport them to Anaheim, and Jocelyn, to be glued and sequined into jewelry which could then be sold on the open markets of suburbia.
My cousin was the creative designer behind the success of our firm. She designed butterfly brooches from Butterfinger clam shells, and periwinkle earrings, mother-of-pearl bracelets, and simple abalone ashtrays festooned with enough glitz and glitter to satisfy any ‘50s housewife.
We were both about ten or so at the time and the word entrepreneur still lay fifteen years in the future. However, with Jocelyn’s insistence we created hundreds of baubles to sell to her neighbors. One weekend we struck out through her neighborhood, ringing and knocking our way from door to door. Sales were miserable. No Fuller Brush or Kirby Vacuum salesman ever had it rougher. Our allowances had been exhausted purchasing glitter and sequins, glue and clasps. I was understandably despondent; Jocelyn was merely creative.
My cousin’s wondrous idea was to inform our prospective customers that we were actually selling the shell jewelry in order to raise money to give to charity. I have long since forgotten what charity she singled out for our beneficence, but it must have been widely recognized and highly revered for we were soon embarked on collecting our first million.
Actually, we came pretty close. For some reason I recall a figure of thirty-seven dollars and some-odd cents. In 1955 or so this was not idle income. I was elated and already had visions of candy and comics, gum and model airplanes. Jocelyn, ever the intent businessperson, made us plow our money back into our burgeoning company. We bought more of everything: glue, clasps, sequins, et cetera. And I was again commissioned to pillage the local seaside for shells and aquatic bric-a-brac. I’m certain the lure of entrepreneurship urged Jocelyn forward; basic greed pushed me. All went smoothly until one of our satisfied customers called my aunt to arrange for more jewelry and another donation to our charity of the week.
One revelation led to another and pretty soon Jocelyn and I were being escorted from house to house in order to return the money we had so falsely acquired. I’ll never know how my aunt and uncle were assured that people were not asking that more be returned than what they had originally given, but this was the ‘50s, a kinder, gentler age, and perhaps people were not as ready to lie and cheat as now. Or perhaps they did lie and cheat as they do now, but they were never billed. When our own bill was reconciled by my uncle, rightly or wrongly, Jocelyn and I had to pay all of our sales back to my aunt and uncle. I know it took me more than a year to do so.
There are many lessons that can be drawn from this story. But balanced in the scales of childhood and adolescence, this is only one story among many. Since then I have become a teacher; interestingly, so has Jocelyn. Since then I have been married twice; Jocelyn three times. Since then I barely make ends meet, month to month; Jocelyn, I’m told, is doing well on alimony. Somehow I don’t think I learned very much in 1955.