Friday, February 3, 2012

Folklife Friday: The Peddler

They were called 'rolling grocery stores', those panel trucks that had been customized with shelves to hold groceries, paper goods, and sewing needles, among other things. They were common in the fifties and early sixties in rural areas when people were unable to go into town on a regular basis. Smart merchants knew the folks still needed the items, so they brought the merchandise to the country--to the fine homes and the sharecropper's shacks alike. It costs a little more, of course, but what convenience!

After school ended in May and the strawberries were picked, life could be somewhat boring for my siblings and me. We didn't go to town much, since it was a thousand miles away (okay, maybe twenty).  Remember, we had no phone and a television that got two channels clearly, one of them being public television. Our house had no air conditioning, so most of the daylight hours were spent outside. We were constantly looking for something fun to do, something to break the monotony of those long summer days.

Thursday was special, because Thursday was 'peddler day'. The time he arrived varied according to how many people were waiting by the road to buy something that day. If you weren't waiting by the road, he might just drive right on by, so we had a designated 'look-out' to make sure he didn't pass our house without stopping.

Mr. Franks, who is still clear in my rapidly eroding mind, drove the truck and dispensed the goodies. He was short, heavy, and always in a hurry. I don't want to get Mr. Franks in trouble, but it has been fifty years and he was an old man then, so I think it is safe to tattle. He would give us face value in cash for coupons! We searched magazines for coupons, and praised the day that Procter and Gamble or some other company sent us coupons in the mail. Mr. Franks would also buy eggs, but we usually didn't have any to spare and had to use the pennies we had saved.

Candy bars, the ones that cost a dollar today, could be bought for a nickel. If you bought a quarter's worth, you got one free. So we would pool our money sometimes and get six big candy bars for twenty-five cents. He had a supply of tiny little pecan pies and something similar to Ding-Dongs. Even then, I was a bargain hunter, so I would buy a package of two wrapped pastries for the price of one candy bar.

Mama didn't buy a lot from the peddler man, because Daddy worked in town and went by the grocery store everyday. Sometimes, though, the peddler saved the day when the need was urgent, like canning lids or some baking soda.  Some of the elderly widows in the neighborhood bought all their groceries from Mr. Franks.  We hated it when he stopped at their house first; it seemed like it took them forever while we stood there, waiting, our money sweating in our hands.

There were other sellers who came to our house. One couple we knew drove their pickup to Florida regularly and bought a load of fruit. They had a small fruit stand in their front yard, but on pretty days, they loaded that fruit up and sold it door to door. We always loved to see them coming. For a while, another couple who sold Watkins products and other goodies would stop by, and we were always excited to see what they had to offer. We called them "Ole Watkins"; I don't know if we ever knew their real names.

At school, we read about families in cities who actually had their milk, butter, and eggs delivered to their houses.  All we could think was, "How crazy is that?"  Some other child in another school may have read about our peddlers and thought the same thing. Needless to say, we pitied them.