The Flowering Vine: Harder Than Times in ’29

TRAVELING SALESMAN

During the years that my Mom, Uncle Jim, Aunt Joyce, Aunt Dot, and Uncle Leroy grew up—as the young folks say these days— “The struggle was real!” Not that the struggle wasn’t real before the 1940’s and 50’s; oh no! I don’t think anyone would disagree with me if I said that, the 30’s, 20’s and all decades prior, were as hard as hard can get. However, I am privileged to first-hand accounts of the afore-mentioned decades from Mom and her siblings.

One aspect of those times that I love hearing about, is the tales of the traveling salesmen. I can remember a man coming to our home selling Hoover vacuum cleaners. He put on one heck of a demonstration. I was amazed by the wondrous machine that this man introduced to us that day. I guess Gramp was as amazed as I was because, if my memory serves me, she purchased that silver torpedo with the elephantine trunk that day.

That vacuum served a twofold purpose, in those days. The first being the obvious one of sucking up the dirt that I and my siblings had tracked into Gramp’s house. Its secondary purpose was as various space tools and weapons, during my imaginary journeys through the galaxy, and yes, beyond!

Also, I can remember the insurance salesman coming by Gramp’s house, or as he was commonly known, the “Insurance Man”. He came bearing a large black leather book with handles.  It reminded me of a Bible in shape, color and texture, but there was nothing else Biblical about it.  It was very messy and disorganized. Bits and pieces of what I assumed, were the lives of his clients, peeked out like little shy elves, trying to get a glimpse of me, while I did the same to him.  Then he’d sit, carry on idle conversation, with the big book opened on his lap. He’d shuffle the papers until he found the one with the lives of my Grandparents on it, then some more pleasantries and a small transfer of money from Gramps hands to his and he was gone.

THAT WAS THE 60’S AND 70’S 

During Mom and them’s formative years, things were different, but the same.

My cousin Gwin’s and my parents, lived and survived on practically little or nothing. As I stated before, times were hard!

The things they did have were bought from traveling salesmen. There weren’t any Wal-Marts, with row after row and shelf after shelf of Wranglers and what-not. There were no Footlocker’s for young feet full of fire. There was just that old traveling salesman.

According to the accounts of my Mom and others, there were several different types of door-to-door salesmen. For instance, there was the Watkins Products salesmen. His inventory of wondrous wares included, but was not limited to; liniments, hair products, and the pièce de résistance, Watkins Petro-Carbo Salve; used to heal cuts and draw out splinters.

Granddaddy Leroy and Mother bought, among other things, school clothes for their children from these salesmen. This clothing salesman hawked his habiliment from the trunk of his old DeSoto automobile. Granddaddy Leroy and Mother paid Mr. Macon (the salesman’s name) $2 per week. The salesman kept a “running tab” of what was owed him.

In relating these events, my mother expressed how excited she and her siblings would be to see and choose from crisp school dresses, and long-sleeved, striped, shirts & jeans. Mom’s favorite dress of all, from the trunk of Mr. Macon’s DeSoto, was a red, plaid one, with white lace pockets and white lace on the sleeves.

With a nostalgic tone and a wistful look flirting across her countenance, Mom told me how she was so excited and felt so pretty on the first day of school. At that time, she was in the third or fourth grade and I can tell you with a surety, founded in pictures that I’ve seen from those  years, that she was an especially beautiful child. It is easy for me to imagine how beautiful she must have been in that dress, smiling a smile, a mile wide!

Besides the salesmen like Mr. Macon who ventured in vestments, there were others who sold, sundry stock like: books; Bibles, almanacs, and encyclopedias. As a matter of fact, my own father—who taught school most of the year—sold encyclopedias during the summer. He even sold himself a set of Childcraft encyclopedias, when I was about 4 or 5 years old. In my opinion, that particular purchase was the best purchase he ever made. Before I could read, I spent hours just looking at the pictures. When my father would read the captions under the pictures to me, I would remember them, and quote them back, word-for-word.

When I learned to read, nothing could come between me and the knowledge those books contained. -Ron Brown

           

17 thoughts on “The Flowering Vine: Harder Than Times in ’29

  1. omanfuqua

    Yes I remember those days we had two sets of encyclopedias black history and the regular encyclopedias. I was in love with the insurance man. His voice made the walls Trimble it was so deep. We had a meat man that brought a half of cow to our house every two weeks and cut all the states we wanted for roast beef. We were the best dressed family in the neighborhood because my dad was a garbage man for rich people that lived up in the hills. They gave us clothes and furniture. Good Times but I never want to go back to those times

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  2. I loved this post Ron. It reminded me of when I was 4/5 years old and just came to the UK. I remember someone coming to our home, and I think he was called ‘The Rent Man’. His name was actually Mr Luxton, but no one called him that – whenever he came to the house he was identified as the rent man. He also had a suitcase with him and it were various items of clothing and bedding. Weird, now I come to think of it! Why would the rent man also be a salesman? Neither parent is here to answer that now, but your post reminded me of that time – nostalgic!

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      1. I think I may have been a little unclear here Ron – the rent man actually was the rent man because he came to collect the rent, but he also had a suitcase with him in which he had stuff for sale. So I suppose he was both the landlord and a salesman too – well that’s how my 5 year old mind remembers it. 🙂

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  3. I remember the “insurance man” coming by from time to time for my mom and my grandmother. There was also a man who drove through the neighborhood selling fresh fish weekly. He would drive through honking the horn on his truck, which alerted the residents that he was coming through, then he’d turn around and find several folks waiting on the street for him.

    There were a few other characters who would come through the neighborhood, but I can’t remember them all that well. Great post Ron, it evokes a time gone by so vividly.

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    1. Thanks T Wayne. Once I sat on the back of a pickup truck all day, parked uptown, selling peaches. A guy looking like Jimmy Carter came by to buy peaches, but he denied that he was Jimmy.

      Another time my Dad had us pick a truck load of corn, then, embarrassingly, we rode around town, slowly, hollering out, “Cone fuh sell! Cone fuh Sale; ten cents a ear!”

      Got plenty more those that will show up after the Flowering Vine is complete

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  4. Jet

    Julia Shaw, a noted psychologist and author, stated in one of her books that the memory is flawed. This is probably true. However, the basal ganglia system was not overworked in the aiding of explicit conveyance of this story to Ron! I remember it as if it was yesterday. Thanks for the beautiful rendition , Ron. You are my hero!

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  5. Amazing how traveling salesmen used to be respected, and purchases were made from them. Now, at least over here, if anyone comes to the door selling something, they are instantly regarded with suspicion.

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  6. My grandfather was a traveling salesman. I heard all the stories, Ron! Shortly after my birth, maybe after I became a toddler, the milkman stopped delivering to the house. Of course, like you, my encyclopedia collection helped me through many assignments. Thanks for the memories. Times were hard but simpler, I suppose.

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  7. Ahh, another era for sure, the travelling salesmen! I wonder – if people ever felt *obliged* to buy stuff, cuz look at the sweat on this poor salesman’s brow on hot days, schlepping around the countryside for a pittance. I know my mom would have. In fact I have a story about her and a – no no, that’ll be a blog post of my *own*!!! lolol!! Very much enjoyed this, Ron, you definitely captured the feel of the time and place. I mean, obviously I wasn’t there, so like I couldn’t swear to that in a court of law, but 😀 – you know what I mean. I mean I could just picture it all and *hear* the voices, too.

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  8. Really love this one Ron. I especially love the fact that Aunt Jet has such vivid memories of
    events from our parent’s youth. I have never heard the story of Mr. Macon but I love it because it gives us such a wonderful glimpse into the day-to-day life of the first flowers on the vine.

    As for the insurance man. You’ll remember me telling you before about the blessing out I got for letting the Insurance Man in the house without my other Grandma’s permission!

    If looks could kill that joker would have died on the scene! LOL!

    Also, it’s so good to see Gramp and Uncle Fletcher make an appearance! After all, they are a part of the vine too!

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