Volume 46, Issue 2 - March 2011

theBusiness

The Broken Tomato …
Number 8
By Lyle R. Hill

There are nine of them all together but no two are alike … and for the most part, not even similar. Each one is uniquely different—not just physically different, but different in attitude, aptitude, appearance and general outlook as well. Some of this is to be expected, but I could never have guessed that the differences would be so pronounced or the variations so obvious. I don’t have a favorite, of course. A couple seem to be musically gifted, while others do extremely well in athletics or academics. But whatever any of them do or become, I care deeply about each one. They are, as they regularly refer to each other, “The Cousins,” and they are also my grandchildren. Six boys … three girls. As The Cousins get older, I try to spend one-on-one time with them. I want them to know their grandfather. I did not get to know either of mine.

I was alone in the kitchen reading the Sunday paper when out of the corner of my eye, I saw him tiptoeing in my direction. His impish grin gave him away. I knew he had something on his little four-year-old mind and that, whatever the something was, it was coming my way.

“Grandpa,” he began as I put the paper down and looked his way, “I have a joke for you.”

“Good Zachamundo, let me hear your joke.”

“Grandpa, my name is not Zachamundo. It is Zachary Baxter Courage Rush.”

“Oh yes, that’s right, but Grandpa is old so sometimes he forgets these things. So tell me your joke.”

“Okay, Grandpa, how do you fix a broken tomato?”

As I did my best to give the impression that I was in deep thought trying to come up with an acceptable response, “number eight” rocked back and forth on his little four-year-old heels.

“Grandpa, if you don’t have an answer it’s okay because I can tell it to you. My dad didn’t know it either.”

“What about your mom, Zach? She’s a lot smarter than your dad.”

“No, my mom didn’t get it and even Sydney didn’t get it.”

Sydney, a.k.a. cousin number five, is considered by the younger cousins to know everything there is to know about anything that is important. Sydney is ten.

“Okay,” I replied as I leaned forward to get as close as I could to this little bundle of cuteness, “Grandpa gives up. How do you fix a broken tomato?”

As his eyes squinted ever so slightly he leaned toward me looking like he was ready to explode.

“With tomato paste,” he replied as he fell to the floor laughing hysterically. This lasted for about 30 to 45 seconds. Then he got back up and faced me to see what my reaction to all of this might be.

“Zach,” I began, “I think that is a pretty funny joke, but can Grandpa ask you a question?”

“Okay, Grandpa.”

“Well Zach … what is tomato paste?”

As he ran out of the room, he looked back at me and said, “I don’t know Grandpa … ask Sydney.”

Within just a few minutes Zach repeated his tomato joke to everyone he came in contact with and, as could be expected, he never failed to get a chuckle and a positive comment. Ultimately he made his way back to me and told me the joke again. Now because I am a good grandpa and have been preconditioned by the three kids and seven grandkids that have come before, I naturally acted as if I had never heard the joke and gave him the response he expected. Over the next few weeks he continued to tell his joke to me and others who heard it before and since we would never want to hurt the feelings of such an adorable little guy, we all continued to laugh and tell him what a wonderful joke it is.

I sometimes think maybe we adults are a bit like my eighth grandchild … especially in some of our business dealings. We use the same old promotional materials, same old sales pitches, same old handouts and, maybe because we don’t get negative responses, we take a non-response as a positive and, out of habit or laziness, just continue to do the things we have always done and say the things we have always said. As the world continues to change we need to change with it. I recognize that I am as guilty as anyone at sticking with old methodologies far too long. Maybe what some of us need is a good shaking. Maybe it’s time to get some new material. Creativity should be at the heart of our sales and marketing efforts. If we’re not regularly renewing ourselves with regards to these types of efforts then we can’t help but become stagnant and at some point maybe become nothing more than an old withered up tomato that can’t even be fixed with tomato paste.

A few weeks after the tomato joke was first introduced (and after I had heard it at least a dozen times) I was sitting at the kitchen counter inhaling a box of Girl Scout cookies … Tagalongs if you must know … when Zachary Baxter Courage Rush plopped himself down next to me and flashed a curious little smile my way.

“You want a cookie, Zach?” I asked.

“No Grandpa, I don’t like that kind. But I do have a joke for you.”

I wasn’t sure if I could handle another telling of the tomato thing but what’s a grandpa to do?

“Sure Zach. Go ahead and tell me your joke.”

“Okay Grandpa, why were the eggs laughing?”

“I don’t know Zach,” I quickly responded now quite pleased that he was expanding his repertoire. “Why were the eggs laughing?”

“Because somebody cracked them up!”

You know, maybe there’s hope for number eight after all!

Lyle R. Hill is president of MTH Industries of Chicago. Mr. Hill’s opinions are solely his own and not necessarily those of this magazine.


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