Wednesday, 04 July 2007
Chris and The Encyclopedia Salesman
By Nancy Leitz
In the fifties when my children were born and growing up, we had every kind of salesman coming through our neighborhood of row houses in Darby, Pennsylvania.
There was the vacuum cleaner man who frightened us to death by throwing dirt on our rug. Actually he could have saved his dirt; we had plenty of dirt in the rug already. But he would pick up the dirt with his wonderful vacuum and then if you needed further proof that his cleaner was the very best, he would turn it on and put it up to your ceiling and the force of the suction would make the vacuum cling to the ceiling. Oh, we were truly impressed by this demonstration.
After he had achieved the maximum admiration of his machine he would say, "Now I have to turn off the cleaner because if I left it running the powerful suction could pull down your ceiling."
Today my husband and I chuckle at this but at the time I believed every word and only wished that I had $48.50 to buy one. But it was not to be. I learned later that although the machine would pick up the ball bearings that he threw all over the floor, the only thing it didn't pick up was lint!
Next came the Fuller Brush man. Remember him? He had all kinds of brushes. Hair, tooth, potato washing, blue serge suit, floor and toilet. When he opened his case it was a veritable explosion of brushes! You could never decide which you needed most this month.
The best part of the Fuller brushes was that they never wore out. They did not come complete with planned obsolescence as products do today. They were made right here in the good old USA and were really high quality. So you usually could afford one brush each month and at that rate you had a pretty good collection of brushes in no time. We all loved our visits from the Fuller Brush man.
How about the fellow who wanted to take the children's picture? Did he come to your house, too? This was before every person in the country had a Canon or Nikon, and they needed the picture taker. He was very welcome.
He would wait while you shined the kids up, brushed their hair with your Fuller brush and put on their nicest outfit. He was usually very patient and got nice pictures of the kids, some of which I still have today.
Once, unfortunately, he came the day I had given Carol a Toni permanent and had left the solution on a little too long. That's one of the pictures that I still have and there she is, smiling at the camera as though her hair doesn't look like she still had her finger in the electrical outlet.
That brings us to Chris and the Encyclopedia Britannica salesman. It was every mother and father's dream to be able to afford a set of encyclopedias for their children. This was long before you could use your computer as a reference book. No computers in the fifties. So the EB salesman would turn up about once a year and hope your circumstances had improved since his last visit.
The books were very expensive and it was a real distinction to have a set in your home. He would open the books to an interesting page and spread the volumes all over your living room floor. Then he would have you ask him questions and he would look it up as quickly as he could and proudly give you the correct answer.
Our Chris was about five at the time and he was playing on the screened porch and trying to hear the sales pitch at the same time. The salesman said to my husband and me, "Have your little boy ask me anything. The answer will be in one of these volumes." We called Chris in and asked if there was anything he would like to know. He thought for a minute then said, "What kind of car does God drive?"
We felt a bit sorry for the salesman as he realized that he was finished at our house and slowly began to pack up his books.