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North Baltimore family stands up for lemonade

It's not like life handed the Brody family lemons. They just like making lemonade.

For much of the summer, the family — Mark, who sells life insurance;Robyn, a homemaker; and their children, Leo, 8, Blanche, 6, Rachel, 5, and Max, 4 — have sold homemade lemonade for $1 a cup in their driveway in Homeland.

And it's not just any driveway, but one that empties into the southbound lane of Charles Street at Northern Parkway, one of north Baltimore's busiest intersections.

It's not just any summer, either, but one that has sometimes seemed like one long heat wave, including the city's hottest July on record.

None of that bothers the family, which moved to The Orchards last year from Owings Mills. Most weekday afternoons find them manning a table with a blue tablecloth, plastic cups, a five-gallon cooler of lemonade, a metal can for money, and cardboard signs that say, "Lemonade $1. Go O's," or simply "$1. Thank you."

They took a week off recently, and went to Ocean City. But they were back to work the next week.

Mom makes the lemonade and bubble letters for the signs. The kids color them in, pour the lemonade and carry it to a captive audience of cars sitting at the red light, inches from the driveway.

Even so, their parents keep a close eye on the children and only sell lemonade when cars are stopped so as not to hold up traffic. They only serve to southbound motorists and only if the drivers or passengers ask for lemonade. Mostly, they stay put in the driveway and let the customers reach out to them. Occasionally, a child and a parent will work the sidewalk with a sign.

Each child works no more than an hour, and a sprinkler in the front yard is always on to keep them cool.

The point is not to earn money (the family buys 30 bags of lemons a week) but to teach their children manners and the value of hard work, the Brodys say.

"When it becomes work and not play, we don't do it," said Mark, 44. "The hours are, if I happen to be home and a kid wants to work."

"It's fun," said Blanche, a rising first grader at Roland Park Elementary School. "Sometimes, it's boring."

The family hasn't kept count of its earnings, and Mark said, "We don't make anything."

But each sale is a teachable moment with a tangible reward, such as tickets to Baltimore Orioles baseball games.

In fact, Mark Brody noted, "We got started because Leo (a rising second grader at Roland Park Elementary) wanted to get swim lessons for his siblings."

Said Brody, "I want kids who can stand on their own."

His wife added, "The kids are learning that whatever comes in has to go out."

Max, the youngest, makes the most money: "cute dollars," the family calls it. But he also draws the most scrutiny.

"Max, don't go so far," his dad called out at one point.

The family has drawn its own scrutiny from police. Mark Brody said an officer stopped by, telling them, "We got a call that you have a child working in the heat."

But Brody said the officer told them, "I just had to check it out. You're O.K."

Motorists are enchanted with the children, and some have become regulars. A few have driven around the block and circled back around to buy lemonade.

One man parked on a side street and walked down the road to the driveway to tell the children that he was a successful businessman, who sold lemonade as a child.

Mark Brody remembers one familiar-looking fellow bought lemonade from Leo, and said, "Here's an extra buck, kid."

It was former Gov.Robert Ehrlich.

The family gives away lemonade to those who don't have a dollar handy, rather than trying to make change at the light. Four or five times a day, someone voluntarily hands money out their car window as late payment.

The family also gives free lemonade to motorists whose car breaks down or have an accident, to homeless people and to people who often sell roses at the intersection.

The family gave free lemonade to a busload of inmates in a prison work program, which didn't sit well with Leo.

"He was mad, because he could've sold a lot of lemonade," his dad said.

One time, Blanche tried to sell a cup of lemonade that was sitting out for awhile, but her dad took it back, saying, "It's not cold enough."

Although the family is laid back about its lemonade stand, it is also opportunistic. When rock band U2 came to town, the children drew a sign that said, "Bono wants you to buy lemonade."

Robyn wishes they could sell lemonade northbound, too. When her parents visit, she tells them, "Take a grandkid and work the northbound route."

But they never take her up on it.

With the kids going back to school, the lemonade stand is coming to an end for the summer.

"The experience as a parent has been incredible," said their proud dad. He said that as a way to keep the kids active and entertained, the stand has been better than letting them look at Sponge Bob on TV — "no offense to Sponge Bob."

Will the family revive the stand next summer? He said he's leaving it up to the kids.

"It's not my call. They're going to have to do something."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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