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Smooth Apple Cider Brings Sweet Success

My six-year-old son, Nathan, is a born entrepreneur who is quick to spot business opportunities that I usually miss. I remember one perfect autumn afternoon - ripe for an Impressionist's paintbrush - with clear cobalt skies, long violet shadows, and pure yellow light shimmering through the fiery maples on our front lawn. Nathan described it as "a cider and doughnuts kind of day."

That made me think of visiting the cider mill in nearby Franklin Village, where it is worth standing in line for the best cinnamon-spiced doughnuts ever baked in Michigan. Maybe we could buy our pumpkins there, I told Nathan. I wanted to show him the mighty water wheel that powered the mill more than a century ago.

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I remembered how my parents would take me to the Franklin Cider Mill on Sunday afternoons when I was a child. I'd stare at the ancient iron wheel as it groaned through its revolutions, water spewing from its great rusted teeth.

But as I stood there reminiscing, Nathan dismissed my cider mill suggestion, saying he and Catie, the girl next door, had decided instead to set up their own cider-and-doughnuts stand on our front lawn.

The trouble is, though, that while kids never lack clever ideas, an adult usually is required to set them in motion.

It follows then, that on this particular autumn afternoon I found myself at the produce counter in the neighborhood grocery store, loading a cart with several weighty gallons of apple cider. Back home, I scrubbed a card table and covered it with an old checkered tablecloth, then assembled stacks of doughnuts and waxed-paper cups on a wooden tray.

After Nathan and Catie had printed several cardboard signs advertising "Cider Here 10/Donuts 25," the two six-year-olds were ready to set up shop. Nathan's brown eyes glowed like the amber-colored liquid he carefully measured and poured into the paper cups.

Together we positioned the cider stand at the corner of our front yard, near the sidewalk, so that cars driving on either side of the boulevard would be enticed by the products for sale.

Swinging their legs back and forth in anticipation of their first customers, Catie and Nathan sat in lawn chairs by the card table. They waved at passing cars and periodically rearranged the paper cups.

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As every tycoon knows, business takes time to build. At first, it was painfully slow at the cider stand.

Watching the eager pair from the front porch, I felt my heart skip each time a car sped past them. Surely some generous adult - another sympathetic parent - would step on the brakes, reach into a pocket, and pull out a dime for a cool cup of cider. But most of the drivers didn't seem to notice.

I have been guilty of similar oversights. In my rush to the office, the bank, or the dry cleaner's, I've ignored waving children and their makeshift sidewalk stands. Sometimes, I forget that years ago I roamed my neighborhood in a red wagon, hawking my own pitchers of bitter lemonade.

Slowly but surely, my faith in adulthood was restored as a few neighbors came around to patronize the cider stand. Quarters, dimes, and nickels clinked musically in the collection cup, while Nathan and Catie giggled and whirled around the card table. This is one of the most endearing qualities children possess: They haven't yet learned to restrain their emotions.

So it was not at all surprising to see how stunned Nathan and Catie looked when the blond stranger pulled up in a cherry-red convertible with the top down, radio blaring.

Like most grown-ups, the man appeared to be in a tearing hurry. Leaping from his red car, he sprinted up to the stand, grabbed one of the cups, and swallowed his cider in one quick gulp. I noticed he was smiling as he stuffed a bill into the collection cup.

The stranger didn't wait for his change. As he sped down the boulevard in his convertible, the children flew over to me on the porch, chirping and squealing like startled sparrows all the way up the steps.

"Look! That guy gave us $10 for the cider - and he didn't want any change! Ten dollars!"

Breathless, they began a friendly discussion of how the miraculous windfall would be divided. Then, to my surprise, one of them said something about the cider being awfully good, having brought in so much money.

Puzzled and grateful, I reflected on the luminous beauty of the afternoon. I thought of a phrase I'd read by the poet John Keats, and I knew that this is what he meant by "Moments as big as years."

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