By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Peddlers were welcome part of rural life
Liberty lore
Placeholder Image
Many years ago before we had Wal-Mart close to us, we depended on peddlers to bring wares to our homes for our shopping pleasure. Most country folks enjoyed having a peddler stop by with his merchandise and sales pitch. Of course, if the salesman had items that the lady of the house wanted or needed, he did not have to talk very convincingly to make a sale.
I distinctly remember several peddlers who came by our home throughout the years. Some came by only once a year. We looked forward to their visits and the news they brought with them.
The peach man arrived each June in his red Ford pickup with extended wooden sides on it heaped with bushel baskets of several varieties of good-smelling, ripe Georgia peaches. Out of his truck he hopped, dressed in neat khaki pants and matching shirt, a white straw hat with a brown band covering his head.
He had been coming each June with peaches for as long as I could remember. He showed Mama the different kinds of peaches and as he talked he used his small pocketknife to peel a selected one.
Naturally, he handed it to us to taste. He pulled some apart to show her the freestone or clingstone peaches. He did not have to prove his peaches were good.
Mama always bought at least three bushels for us to can and eat. We ate all the raw peaches we could and canned the rest. They were canned in jars before 1962 and after that, the peaches were peeled, sliced, sprinkled with sugar and frozen in plastic freezer cups. Mama used them in cobblers or peaches with dumplings, which we liked best. They were also good just thawed and eaten raw. One year, Daddy made a mighty powerful barrel of peach brandy from the peelings and seeds.
The rug man came in the early spring, his truck loaded down with cheap 9x12 or 12x12 linoleum rugs. Mama selected a rug with red and white squares for the kitchen and a blue or green with large pink or red roses on it for the living room. These rugs did not last very long as ours were walked on so much by residents and visitors in our home. By the time the rug peddler came back, we were ready for more new, cheap rugs of a different design that were usually just put on top of the old ones.
In early summer, the furniture man came by. His truck was filled with oak furniture. Wooden chair legs were sticking up and out in all directions and piled high in the truck. He sold oak rockers, straight back chairs and swings. We always wished for a swing but never bought one. Mama selected a few straight back chairs to go with the couple of deerhide bottom chairs we already had. There was no use buying a swing, as we seven children would have fought constantly about whose turn it was to swing. Mama bought one after most of us were married and gone.
Of course we had the rolling store and iceman that came each week at the same time for many years. These were not considered peddlers but men of necessity. They were just as dependable as the U. S. mailman.
The insurance man and his wife came by once a month to collect their premiums on our tiny burial policies. They arrived in their huge baby blue car that had many papers and insurance books scattered all over the seats and in the floorboard. She kept a large bucket of penny candy near her feet that she handed to us along with packs of sewing needles and free calendars. She called everyone "honey."
The dry cleaner truck came by in the fall to collect coats that needed to be dry cleaned and returned them in two weeks. Those were the only trips they made around the county during the year.
We were most fond of the Watkins man, the Blair lady and the Standard Coffee man. The Watkins man came by at least once a month with his black satchel of goodies on display and a good supply of the most popular items in the trunk of his car. Large bottles of Watkins liniment belonged in every household. Vanilla flavor and black pepper were two more very popular items. Cans of pie fillings — chocolate, vanilla, banana, coconut and lemon — were the very best that money could buy. I remember how delicious they were. A brochure was available for ordering items that he did not have in his car trunk.
Mrs. Lila Watkins was a local black lady and friend of our family who sold Blair products. She walked her route whether the weather was scorching hot or freezing cold. She walked many miles to serve her customers with joy and pride. Mama always placed an order with her. How could anyone refuse after she had walked so far just to make a few pennies? We enjoyed and appreciated her visits.
The fish man came occasionally in his truck with the scales swinging in the back and boxes of whiting or mullet packed in ice. We knew we would have fried fish and grits for supper without him even having to make a sales pitch.
The Standard Coffee and Tea man's white and orange van was filled with coffee and tea, 20 kinds of flavorings, washing detergents and even permanent press shirts (after they were invented) and numerous other items. He had a deal where you received a "free" gift with points earned from your purchases. You got the "free" gift first and then after each purchase, points were subtracted from the gift. This scheme kept you buying from him just to pay for the "free" gift.
One of the last peddlers I recall was the one selling oval picture frames. He took orders for the oval frames with bubble-type glass in it that you could not find in a local store. Any photo could be enlarged to fit this special frame. He played on a family's sympathy by asking if anyone had died in the family and if there was a picture of the person. Surely, the family wanted the relative's photo enlarged and housed in the best of frames. And he usually succeeded in his sales pitch, despite the considerable expense of the frame. Mama placed an order for a photo of my baby sister who died in 1962. Many older people have photos in frames like this.
Later, there were salesmen selling religious books, magazines, stainless steel pot sets, Avon and then came the Stanley and Tupperware home parties.
Yesteryear, the peddlers were welcomed and we enjoyed chatting with the outsider. Many of the peddlers left our home with a mess or two of fresh vegetables if anything was growing in the gardens or fields.
Today, we have few if any peddlers in person. Rather, they are on the telephone trying to sell charge cards, vinyl siding, new windows or anything else right as you walk in the door from work or sit down to the supper table. This certainly does not take the place of sitting on the front porch face-to-face with the peddler and offering him or her a glass of fresh-pumped cold water to drink while we visited. 
Sign up for our e-newsletters