Supporting a door-to-door salesman

By: Azalea R. Bolton - Contributing Columnist

Back many, many years ago it was a common occurrence for door-to-door salesmen to come knocking on your door to try and get you to buy something you just couldn’t live without. Those items included such things as hairbrushes, liniment, vanilla flavoring and even vacuum cleaners.

Fuller Brush Company began way back in 1906 when Alfred C. Fuller started selling out of his basement. The company began with door-to-door sales of various sorts of hairbrushes, which included hairbrushes with a lifetime guarantee. I personally still have a Fuller Brush comb which I purchased in the early 1970s and I still use it because there are no teeth missing from it. I just wash it and keep on using it.

Fuller Brush Company actually stopped its production for a large part of its civilian customers during World War II and began making brushes to clean guns. The company also added a line of cosmetics to its inventory after the end of the war and hired women to do the door-to-door sales for these products. After all, what do men know about cosmetics? Right!

Another company that used to be well known for its door-to-door sales was Watkins Products. J.R. Watkins started out selling liniment way back in 1868. In 1885, a number of products were added to its sales lineup and finally, in 1895, it added baking products, including pepper and vanilla extract. I can still remember a Watkins salesman pulling up at our house. That station wagon was loaded down with all types of bottles full of all kinds of extract — not just vanilla, but coconut, walnut and the list went on and on.

One day when my brothers and I came home from school, Mom had been visited by a traveling salesman and she had made a purchase that she was really excited about. We were not excited at all when she started talking about it because we expecting it to be a bottle of vanilla, liniment or something along those lines. Our ears kinda perked up, however, when she said she had bought a sewing machine that she was going to make payments on.

I’ll admit, I wasn’t really thrilled with her having a new sewing machine. You see, I remembered the dress she had made for me back when I was in the third grade. There was not really anything wrong with that dress as far as the workmanship was concerned. All I knew was I hated that dress from the first moment I saw it. Mom was so proud of it and so eager for me to wear it to school. So, of course, I wore it — but every time I put it on I would think to myself: “I hate this dress and I’ll be so glad when I can get home and change into my play clothes.”

Mom got all excited, too, when Dad got home from work and she started telling him about getting that sewing machine she was gonna be making payments on. Mom and Dad didn’t disagree a lot, but they did sometimes “Have a few words” (as they called it). Dad couldn’t seem to understand how she was “going to make payments” on a sewing machine when she didn’t have a full-time job. And so, “the discussion” went on from there. Of course, all four of us kids knew better than to get involved in any conversations between the two of them. You see, we knew everything would be alright. We knew they would vent their feelings — maybe yell a little bit — but it would never come to blows or come down to one of them leaving and never coming back. Isn’t that a wonderful thing for a child to know about their parents? It’s sad, but I know a lot of kids don’t have that kind of assurance about their parents today.

The sewing machine stayed and Mom did pay for it out of her own money. She helped our neighbors in tobacco, worked in peaches, and made those payments on that sewing machine until she paid it off. I’m convinced she would have worked day and night before she would have asked my Dad to help her make a payment on it.

I had to use that sewing machine when I took home economics at school. As part of that class, we had to make a dress and wear it to school. I did not find anything at all that I liked about trying to sew. Mom’s sewing machine was a foot pedal model. To get that machine to work properly, you needed to work that pedal, keep the thread from knotting up and push the material through — all at the same time. My poor feeble mind couldn’t seem to work together to get all of that done.

Thank heavens for my wonderful home economics teacher, Mrs. Arminta Brown. She even came to my house one day to help me out. How many teachers do you know that would be that caring about a student? She was so great. I still had to do the work myself, of course, but she was so patient and so kind with me and didn’t make me feel stupid for not being able to sew very well.

Mrs. Brown just recently passed away and I just want to let her family know how much it meant to me to have a teacher like her. When you’re a teenager, it means a lot to have someone spend their own time — not just telling you how to do something, but showing you how to do it as well!

Azalea R. Bolton is a resident of Richmond County, member of the Story Spinners of Laurinburg, and member of the Richmond and Anson County Historical Societies.

Azalea R. Bolton

Contributing Columnist