It’s a June afternoon in Pinckney, Michigan, and Vonn Weisenberger is planning a rare expenditure of his hard-earned cash. A recent weekend of cookie sales put three hundred dollars in Vonn’s savings, and now he is about to unload it on a bike. His mother has reminded him it’ll have to last him through high school, so he’s set to choose wisely. It wasn’t always this way. Before becoming a businessboy, Vonn enjoyed simpler things. Backhoes, for instance, were mesmerizing. Backhoe was, it has been reported, among his first words. But they were just a passing fancy. “Not anymore,” he says when the subject comes up. Then there was his menagerie of insects, a whole family of Madagascar hissing cockroaches that moved with him from Oregon to Michigan some years ago. Hisser, the first of the cockroach line of the family, is now pinned as part of an insect collection in Vonn’s room.
Eleven years old, Vonn has been in business for two years selling Vonn’s Specialty Cookies at area craft shows and occasionally through the mail. Packaged in brown paper coffee bags bearing his likeness on the front, Vonn’s mixes require only an egg and a stick of butter and can easily pass for being completely homemade. It helps that they come in an imaginative variety. Inspired by a holiday gift of cookie mix in a jar, Vonn’s business started when he and his mom created their own variation to pass on to relatives. They made a few shifts in the various powders involved—the flours and sugars and leavening—but the real secret is the chips. They offer multiple combinations of chocolate, peanut butter, vanilla, and butterscotch chips in traditional or deep-cocoa–flavored dough. And unlike the girl in Florida who was recently cited for operating an unlicensed lemonade stand, Vonn has all the required paperwork in place.
It’s been said that behind every boy is a younger brother, and Vonn’s is standing, soaking wet and covered in grass clippings, in the open door to the garage. Ryne’s waiting for his mom to tell him he can come in, but she doesn’t seem keen on the grass clippings that have mysteriously sprouted from his body. Ryne’s the kind of kid who always seems to have things mysteriously sprouting. Hearing a conversation about Vonn’s hobbies, Ryne joins in. “I like to work out in the gym,” he offers. “You don’t do that!” Vonn says.
It’s tempting to ask how they might rate each other’s performance as a brother on a scale of one to ten. “I’m a seven,” Ryne says. He’s also seven years old. “He’s a four,” Vonn says with the certainty of an older brother. “He’s a pest,” he adds, though his tone of voice suggests that it isn’t really true. Vonn, on the other hand, is just a five according to Ryne; he could improve by playing with Ryne more. “I play with you all the time!” Vonn says. Ryne hasn’t yet started his own business, but the cash Vonn brings in has made him think it might not be a bad idea. He’s thinking pretzels and lemonade. Vonn is skeptical. “I don’t know if he can come up with a recipe,” Vonn says. Maybe that girl in Florida can help. Meanwhile, Vonn and his mom have been testing some dog-biscuit recipes on the local dogs. Oliver, a canine from down the street, swallowed the samples whole, but they aren’t sure if that means they are good.
What does the future hold for these boys? Vonn plans on becoming a pilot or an architect. Ryne’s ambitions are less certain, perhaps because he doesn’t know the word ambition. His mother translates: What will you be doing when you are older? “I don’t know,” he says cheerfully. “Probably dying.” Will he be pinned in a box like Hisser? “No. That’s only for bugs.”