Many years ago, before we had Wal-Mart and other large shopping centers close to us, we depended on peddlers to bring wares to our homes for our shopping pleasure.
Also, many rural people did not have transportation other than a mule and buggy. I distinctly remember several peddlers who came by our home, sometimes only once during the year and some monthly. We looked forward to their visits and the news they brought with them.
Our favorite was the Peach Man. Mama seemed to know within a day or two when to expect him each year, and she usually was right. She told us to watch for him, and we did expectantly. We knew he would have the truck loaded with the delicious, good-smelling peaches.
We usually spied him when he came to the pasture-fence gate at Key Howard’s and stopped to open it. We recognized the red Ford pickup with extended wooden sides on it, heaped with bushel baskets of several varieties of ripe Georgia peaches. He would briskly step out of his truck, dressed in neat tan khakis and matching shirt with a white straw hat with a brown band around it covering his head.
He came each June with peaches as far back as I could remember. After the summer of 1962, I do not recall seeing him again.
After the usual greetings, the Peach Man showed Mama the different kinds of peaches. As he talked, he used his small pocket knife to peel a selected one. Naturally, he handed us slices to taste. He had to peel more than one to go around! He pulled some apart to show us the clingstone-free variety.
The Peach Man did not have to prove his peaches were good. Mama always bought at least three bushels for us to eat and freeze. Before 1956, she canned many quarts of peaches, but after we got a freezer, no more canning was done. We were allowed to eat just as many fresh peaches as we could. I am sure we had fantastic bellyaches!
After the Peach Man left, we would sit on the porch with our paring knives and dishpans and peel, pit and slice the peaches. We would sprinkle sugar over them, put them in plastic quart cups and freeze them. Mama later would use the peaches to make cobbler or put them in dumplings, which we liked best. A bowl of peaches and dumplings with a little grated nutmeg over it and some evaporated milk poured on top would make your tongue slap the roof of your mouth out! They were also good just thawed and eaten raw.
Daddy wanted us to save all the peelings and seeds so he could make a powerful barrel of peach brandy with them. One would almost stagger just by walking by it!
Another peddler we appreciated was the Rug Man. He also arrived in springtime with a truck loaded with cheap 9-by-12 or
12-by-12 bright-colored linoleum rugs. Mama once selected a rug with red-and-white squares for the kitchen and a blue or green one with large pink or red roses for the living room.
These cheap rugs did not last very long, as there were at least 12 people almost every day walking on them. By the time the rug peddler came back, we were ready for more rugs with different designs. We were so proud when our new rug was placed in the living room over the top of the old one — good insulation.
In the early summer, the Jordan’s Furniture truck came by with oak furniture. Wooden legs stuck up in every direction from the truck. The peddler sold straight chairs, rocking chairs and oak porch swings. We always wanted a swing but could not afford one. There really was no use buying a swing because we seven children would have been constantly fighting about whose turn it was to sit in it. Mama just bought a few straight chairs to go with the few chairs we already had with deerskin or cowhide seats.
Years after most of us were married and had left home, Mama did buy a porch swing!
Of course, we had Sid Burkhalter’s rolling store from Glennville that supplied us with groceries at 11 o’clock Saturday for many, many years. Curtis Sikes delivered ice on Tuesdays and Fridays. However, he quit because of lack of business, and Daddy was forced to wire the house for electricity.
We did not consider these men to be peddlers; they were men of necessity and were just as dependable as the United States Postal Service, if not moreso.
Mr. and Mrs. Carl Roy came by each month in their big baby-blue car to collect premiums on insurance policies. Papers and insurance books were scattered all over the back seat and the floorboards. Mrs. Roy kept a large bucket of penny candy by her feet and handed out the candy to us, along with notions like packs of sewing needles with their company ad on them and free calendars. She called everyone “honey.”
The Bacon Dry Cleaners from Glennville came by once a year in the fall to collect any coats that needed to be dry cleaned. In two weeks, the cleaned coats back were brought back in a large van.
We were very fond of the Watkins Man, the Blair Lady and the Standard Coffee Man.
The Watkins Man came about once a month with his large black satchel filled with many goodies on display and a good supply of the most-often requested items in the trunk of his car. Large bottles of Watkins liniment belonged in every household. Vanilla and lemon flavors and black pepper were popular. The black salve he sold was used for everything, it seemed. We enjoyed the pie fillings of every flavor: chocolate, vanilla, lemon, banana and coconut. A brochure was available to order things he did not have but would deliver on his next trip.
Mrs. Lilah Watkins was a local black lady who was loved and respected by the whole community — and, I might add, one of the best cooks who could be found. She was the cook for the Carlton Baxter family and walked her route whether the weather was cold, hot or raining. Mrs. Watkins walked many miles to serve her customers with joy and pride. Mama always placed an order with her. How could anyone refuse her after she walked so far just to make a few pennies? We certainly enjoyed and appreciated her visits.
The Standard Coffee Man had a white van with orange writing on the sides and was filled with coffee and tea, 20 kinds of flavorings, washing detergents, pie fillings and even permanent-press shirts when they first came out. Many other products filled the van. He always had a “deal” where you got a “free” gift with points earned from your purchases. You got the nice gift first and then, on each trip, points were taken off the item according to the amount you purchased. Many sales were made by this scheme. I still have a large, red punch bowl and cups that were earned this way.
One of the last peddlers I recall sold oval picture frames. He took orders for the frame with bubble-type glass in it that you cannot find in the local store. Any photo could be enlarged to fit this special frame. In this type of frame, the person seems to be looking back at you no matter from which angle you are looking. This frame was rather expensive back in 1962. Many older people have framed photos like this in their home.
This peddler played upon the family’s sympathy by asking if anyone in the family had died and if there was a photo of the deceased. Surely, the family would want the photo enlarged and placed in a special frame. And he usually succeeded by making this sales pitch. Mama placed an order for a photo of our little sister, who had recently died, on May 4, 1962. She was only 53 weeks old and was born with spina bifida.
I am now in possession of this framed photo since Mama’s death in 2014. (It just occurred to me that I’ll bet the picture-frame man went by the local funeral home, got a list of people who had recently died and made visits to their homes a few weeks later while they were still mourning the loss of their loved ones!)
During yesteryear, peddlers were welcomed, and we enjoyed chatting with the outsider and getting his or her viewpoints on matters that interested us. Many peddlers left our home with a mess or two of fresh vegetables if anything was growing in our garden or fields.
Today, we have no peddlers in person. Rather, they are on the telephone calling at inopportune times to sell credit cards, home-protection devices, burial insurance for seniors, magazines, vinyl siding or circus tickets for the fire department, among many other things.
Many times, I cannot understand their language — and they certainly can’t understand my Southern drawl!
Telemarketing certainly does not take the place of sitting on the front porch face to face with a peddler and looking him or her in the eyes and offering them a cold glass of sweet iced tea or fresh-pumped water while they visited.
Old-fashioned, honest peddlers — another memory of our past years.