Who Came Calling?

I’m not writing an autobiography or my “life story,” but the memoir story I am telling about our family does criss-cross my entire life.

It’s a different mindset to write about more recent times than it is to write about my childhood. For childhood scenes it helps to get myself back in that time by looking at artifacts from the period.

Occasionally, I brainstorm about objects and odd unimportant memories just for this purpose.

Recently I’ve been thinking about the men and women who came to our houses with the purpose of delivering or selling.

When I was in junior high my grandmother was still getting deliveries from Lockshore Dairy. The milk man would drive up very early in the morning and put the milk and cottage cheese and butter in a silver box on Grandma’s porch. Eventually, the company stopped making deliveries as home delivery and home sales were beginning to become old-fashioned.

In the way that sometimes old becomes new again, when my kids were little and we were living in California, I was able to order dairy delivery from Alta Dena!

When I was younger than nine, we were visited regularly by the Fuller Brush Man. If you click on the photo, you will find an article that describes how the company, after being in business for over 100 years, went Chapter 11 last summer. We bought cleaning supplies, as well as brushes from him. He didn’t look handsome and spiffy like the man in the poster; he was more sad and harried looking. Maybe if he had been younger he would have been more eager, but I can’t say he didn’t try to be enthusiastic about the products in the gigantic suitcase he hauled around with him.

Fuller Brush Man

Our Rexair vacuum was purchased from a man who came selling them. He spread his products out in our small living room and showed my mother how to vacuum up dirt without a bag in the vacuum. The dirt went into a pot of water at the base of the vacuum. Although we barely had any furniture and we didn’t have wall-to-wall carpet, she bought it! 

The Avon Lady still visited when I was in high school, but soon after that, Avon began to be sold through other methods than door to door sales.

There were various other people who came to the door, such as men offering to sharpen our knives and scissors.

Now when somebody rings my doorbell unannounced, I try to peek and see who it is or I just ignore them. What if they are coming to tell me my house is on fire? Or that there has been a disaster and we must evacuate? It might be nice to be able to open the door to a stranger and invite him in so I can look at his wares. Or am I just being nostalgic?


On another note, I’ve written before about the angst I have over reading my poetry aloud. A new issue of TAB: A Journal of Poetry and Poetics is out. You can read my poem “Vagrant.” Or listen to me read it ;).  Click the link if you’re willing.


Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Memoir, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Vintage American culture, Writing

73 responses to “Who Came Calling?

  1. Sounds as though you had the same Fuller Brush Man as we had! Must have been their nature to be harried, weary, and seemingly defeated by life. Interesting memories, indeed.

    • Luanne

      Mark, hah, I bet it’s true. Maybe it was lugging around that huge suitcase full of products! I think the case was almost as big as our salesman!

  2. Oh yes – we had a milkman for many years when I was a kid. We got orange juice from him too. Left the bottles out Sunday night and got them back Monday morning!

    • Luanne

      Yes, orange juice! You could get about a quarter of the real basics of grocery shopping from the milk man! There was something about the clink of the bottles and the truck and all that was just so satisfying.

  3. Louanne, you are so modest putting your published poem as a footnote. Bravo, not only for being published but also for the insightful poem. I liked how you started each line with before…then shifted structure, which I found very effective and ended with before.
    I also like your voice when you write about your childhood memories. Fun memories. We had blocks of ice delivered to our home. Oh, my, that’s so ancient!

    • Luanne

      Carol, really, ice? That is amazing. Did you have an ice box instead of a refrigerator, is that why? We had a little Hotpoint refrigerator. The freezer had enough room for the frost, 2 bags of peas, some ground beef, and popsicles hah. Thank you about the poem. I am so glad you like the structure of the poem. It seemed terribly important to the narrative to have that structure, for some reason.

  4. rfsgalli

    Great poem! So awesome to hear your voice Luanne! I like the post too. I remembered many of the artifacts you described. Keep at it! L B Sent from my iPhone


    • Luanne

      Thanks, Becky! It’s great to hear from you. Yeah, I never did master the Skype meeting with the group ;)! And let’s not forget encyclopedia salesmen! xo

  5. Congrats on your poem publication!!

    I enjoyed your thoughts on the people who came to sell. We had them, too, coming out to the lake, where residents were scarce in fall, winter, and spring. Mother always welcomed these sellers as a diversion.

    I attempted to sell Rainbow cleaners (we were never to call them “vacuum cleaners”) for a month in 1976. That was pretty crazy. I made a few demonstrations but sold no Rainbows. Coincidentally, they collected dirt in water, like your mom’s vac.

    • Luanne

      Thanks, WJ! I wonder if that’s what part of this door to door selling was about–for the amusement of bored housewives?! Did you sell Rainbows door to door? There was a store in the 70s on Burdick Street in Kalamazoo that sold them.

      • Yes, door to door, in that I left cards at people’s homes all along a street, and then they called me if they wanted a demonstration. I was sick with bronchitis at the time, tromping around in December snow, and I thought, “This will either kill or cure me.”
        Rainbows were vastly overpriced and sold on installment plans.

  6. Congratulations on having your poem published, Luanne! Great job and thank you for sharing it with us. 🙂
    Unfortunately we live in a different world so I never open the door without peeping to see who is there.

    • Luanne

      Jill, thanks so much! It’s so true about going to the door. When I lived in California, we were in a nice suburban neighborhood and there was still a gunfight right in front of our house during the night once! I don’t even want anyone coming to my door, though I don’t mind leaving on my own for a walk!

  7. Haha! I bought a Kirby last year after a home demo…after all, she cleaned my whole house and shampooed my carpet. I felt the nearly $3000. for the vacuum cleaner was worth it.

    • Luanne

      Are you kidding me? $3,000?! Omigosh. I had no idea. It was worth that money to get your house cleaned once? hahahaha I once bought a vacuum that was recommended–a Lindhaus. I spent $800 on it and thought it was a great investment until I realized it was just too heavy. Now I use a Dyson from Target and love it.

  8. I LOVE your poem. So deceptively simple and very moving. We all want to be remembered, don’t we?

    • Luanne

      Ah, thanks, S. I appreciate your comment so much! I think it’s true that everyone does–in one way or another.

  9. Ian

    I love childhood-family artifacts. They can transpose you in time and place so quickly! My parents seemed to hate door to door salesmen, except for one guy who would come around in a VW van to sell Dutch products! I guess my mom couldn’t resist seeing what home-country product he had managed to import since the last visit.
    Nice reading of the poem!

    • Luanne

      Ian, I’ve never heard of somebody selling Dutch products door to door! My relatives would have loved that, I’m sure! What’s kind of sad is that although my family came to an area of the U.S. that was quite well populated by Dutch immigrants, they quickly lost anything relating to the culture–food, for the biggest example.
      Thanks about the poem, too. It’s difficult for me to do it as I hate hearing my own voice!

  10. You took me right back so many years! I had forgotten about most of those things. Nice walk down memory lane.

  11. As a woman who is head of the household that shares one vehicle, I’d be positively thrilled if ice and milk were still delivered here, and if a man came to my house to sharpen knives! Oh how I wish!

  12. Visiting your post from the yeah write challenge grid (http://yeahwrite.me/writing-challenge-157/). While I love the convenience of ordering stuff online and having it shipped to my house, it does seem bittersweet to have lost that human interaction with a salesperson.

    • Luanne

      cynkingfeeling, thanks so much for stopping by! What is yeah write challenge? I just went over there and I’m not sure how the post ended up there, but it sure looks interesting!!! I’ll spend some more time over there and see what I find out.
      Yes, you’re right about it being bittersweet. I feel that way about most technology. We are losing at least as much as we are gaining, I think.

  13. Keep writing, Everyone has an interesting life, or at least I find this to be true. Enjoy your post. Ann

    • Luanne

      Thanks, Ann! That’s how I look at it. Some people think they don’t want to read memoirs of average people, but those are the most interesting to me!

  14. Natalie DeYoung

    I remember the Fuller Brush guy. We bought all kinds of cleaning supplies from him. He came to our door throughout my childhood, until cancer took him. We never had another Fuller Brush visit again, and I’m still kind of sad about it.
    Stopping by from the yeah write challenge. http://yeahwrite.me/writing-challenge-157/

    • Luanne

      Hi Natalie! yeah write looks wonderful! That’s a shame about your Fuller Brush man. Now I am wondering if there were ever Fuller Brush women . . . . 😉

  15. Luanne, I look forward to hearing you read your poem when I get home 🙂 I don’t remember many sales people coming to our home, but I think my mom bought our collection of encyclopedias from a door-to-door salesman. I do remember a barber who made house calls. I have a vivid memory of my brother-in-law getting his hair cut in his own kitchen by a very entertaining Italian barber. And when I was very little, doctors were still making house calls 🙂

    • Luanne

      Marie, LOVE the barber story! That’s fabulous! I don’t remember doctor’s house calls as I think they were just ending them when I was I little–at least in our town. The encyclopedias. I remember those but my parents said they were too expensive although I cried haha. We ended up buying the ones at the grocery store.

      • I just remembered the barber’s name was Joe. I’ll have to ask my mom about him when I see her next. He had a regular shop but some of his clients were, like my brother-in-law, farmers and so really couldn’t make appointments like we do now.

  16. A nice slice of nostalgia. These days I prefer sales people not to come to my door but as a kid, it was a common occurrence.

  17. This was really eye opening for me. I had no idea half these things even existed as door-to-door products. That’s so cool! There’s something so much more personal about it than big box stores packed full of everything and staffed by people who know nothing about any of it.

    • Luanne

      Larks, really?! Do you remember any door to door sales at all? I agree with you so much about the big box stores. They all carry the same stuff (pretty much) and most of it is of such poor quality that it’s made only to last for a few months. Kind of sad.

  18. Loved this, Luanne! Being in the antique business with my aunt, we often received wonderful memories, along with the items we bought. That’s what this reminds me of. Many years ago I sold Avon and my first job was door-to-door selling Stanley Home Products.
    Off to read/hear your poetry now.

    • Luanne

      I love haunting antique shops. It’s getting difficult now as the merchandise isn’t that great because of ebay. But it’s fun to walk through them and go “remember this” and “remember that”!!!

  19. I grew up in India. Every early morning a milkman would be at our door, with fresh buffalo milk and measuring cans. My mother and he would argue about the incorrect measurements and wake all of us up. She’d save a penny or two everyday and then give him an enormous tip at the end of the month to help with his economic situation.
    This post tugged a few nostalgic threads. Great writing!

    • Luanne

      theinnerzone, I love your story! You’ve created quite a world in very few words here! What does buffalo milk taste like? Is that used because cows are sacred? Sorry, I’m very ignorant about dairy usage in India. It must feel as if your memories are both very far away (because of geography as well as time) and yet so close and personal to yourself. I felt as if I could feel it, reading your story.

      • Thanks Luanne! Cows are indeed, scared for Hindus and their milk is considered very nourishing. The only thing prohibited by religion is to killing them. Buffalo milk, is however, tastier and creamier.
        You are so right about geography and distance in time, but all is only a thought away!

        • Luanne

          I had no idea about buffalo milk! So the cows are used for dairy, but they just can”t be killed or eaten. That makes sense. If only all animals were so lucky . . . .

  20. I grew up out in the middle of nowhere, so we never had the door-to-door people. Now I sometimes get energy companies trying to sell us on five year locked in rates with strong arm tactics. Door-to-door sales has to be a tough way to make a living.

    • Luanne

      Vanessa, wow, I never thought of how the sales people wouldn’t go out in the country, where the houses are far apart from each other. But I imagine that’s true. It wouldn’t be worth the gas, for one thing! I agree: a very very tough way to make a living!

  21. This brought a whole bunch of pleasant memories back to me! Thanks, Luanne for the wave of nostalgia! We had the Schwan truck which delivered goodies and some staples, too. We had only one house with a milk door, that held a metal box with a clamp on it. It was in the ‘breezeway’ of one of our homes. I liked the glass bottles with red lettering for the milk. We sometimes would ‘order’ butter and cream, for holidays. I think my Mom knew a fellow teacher, whose wife sold Avon. I remember well the men’s and women’s scents. I liked the hand lotion and also, the way my Mom smelled while wearing “Charisma,” I think it was a red and gold box with a golden perfume with red lettering on it. My Dad liked mostly Old Spice, which my Mom had to get a department store, I believe! Smiles, Robin

    • Luanne

      I think Schwans is still around, isn’t it, Robin? I think they tried to sell me something a few years ago, but maybe it just feels that way! What great memories you have, Robin. Don’t you think that the memory of scent is powerful? Nothing beats our Old Spice memories :). xo

      • I have seen Schwan’s trucks, but don’t have a family that needs to have things ordered. I think it was a ‘shortcut’ for my Mom, ever the one to looke for ways to save going to the grocery store! She was one of those ‘working Mom’s’ who created “Pizza Fridays,” “Fend for Yourself Saturdays,” and “Going out to dinner after Church” Sundays!
        I am so glad you like the traditional Old Spice and it does carry lovely memories, too! Thanks for the opportunity to respond back, a little belatedly… Smiles back at you, Luanne!

        • Luanne

          Hahaha, I think your know your mother very well! What a great way to describe her, Robin! You could write a book like “A Girl Named Zippy”! That sounds like one of her descriptions!

  22. I get so nostalgic over things like this! Even though I grew up in the 80s/90s, we still had Fuller Brush, Avon, and got milk from a dairy. I do miss the day when you could open the door and invite someone inside without any regard to them being dangerous.

    • Luanne

      Martha, when did it happen that it got too dangerous to open the door? I don’t remember when, but we used to have no problem and then suddenly it was just stupid to open the door when you aren’t expecting someone. I’ve peered at someone through the peephole before and just willed him to go away! It’s ridiculous, but after a home invasion in our neighborhood, followed by a shootout, I am easily frightened. I had no idea that the Fuller Brush guy was still coming around in the 80s and 90s!!! Thanks for stopping by!!

  23. Luanne, I’m the yeah write editor who added your lovely post to this week’s challenge. Just thought you’d like to know popular voting has begun on all the entries. Maybe you can stop by and join the fun? We don’t vote for ourselves, but for three other favorites http://yeahwrite.me/challenge-voting-157/

  24. I remember the Kirby vacuum man coming to my house when I was a kid to sell my mom a vacuum. Just like you said, he spread out all the parts and showed her all the features. I hadn’t thought about that in a long time. Thanks for the trip down memory lane! Visiting you from yeah write 🙂

    • Luanne

      After hearing about the Kirby from sknicholls above, I have got to see one of these in action hah! Wasn’t it exciting to see all that going on in your own house? Of course, today nobody shows us anything about what we buy. We have to figure it out ourselves!

  25. What a fun story 🙂 I still miss having a milk man! It was always an added delight in my childhood days.

  26. Ha! This post reminded me of the visceral reaction I had to a steak-of-the-month salesman showing up to my father’s door a few years back. It wasn’t a good: http://wp.me/p4cuiX-bo. He definitely took an open-door approach; me, not so much. Times have certainly changed.

  27. Pingback: yeah write #157 weekly writing challenge winners: crowd favorite + top row three + spirit awards | yeah writeyeah write

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