Monday, April 13, 2009

The Men In Mother's Life . . .

. . . That Sounds Bad, Doesn't It?

Moher was happily married so you might ask why she'd want more men in her life. Well, once it was the custom but unless you are as old as I am, and she, back in the early 1900s even older of course, probably do not understand.

Who were these extra men? There were quite a few - the ice man, the gas man, the milk man, the fish man, the vegetable man, the swill man, the rag man, the junk man , the scissors man, the Fuller Brush man. and the bill collection man.

Just so's you youngun's will understand this accumulation of men, here's
a rundown on who they were and what they did, some every day, some a couple days a week, some weekly, some monthly and the bill collection man once a week or maybe every two weeks.

Let's start with the bill collection man. That doesn't mean Mother was behind on her bills. You see, we're talking here about the first type of installment buying.

For example, Louie Goldstein sold us a used refrigerator for $25 and the agreement was a dollar down and a dollar a week. Sunday was his collection day because his church day was Saturday, he being of the Jewish religion. This also happened when I was furnishing my first home.

Louie would make his rounds to customers on Sunday morning but respecting the church-going routines of many of his customers, he'd patiently sit on the back stoop until Mother came home, waiting for his dollar.

The man who came around daily was the milk man, bringing one or two bottles of milk and perhaps a dozen eggs. He would halt his horse -drawn wagon in front of the house, walk into the back hall and deposit his wares into the oak ice box whether anybody was home or not.

Along about the same time, but not every day, the ice man would deliver a block of ice into the same oak ice box. He would know how much to bring into the house because Mother would put a red-lettered card in the front window indicating a 25 or 50 cent piece, or a seventy-five cent block of ice.

Houses heated by natural gas in olden days had meters in the cellar and once a month a man would walk ito the back hall , yelling "gas man", and descend to the cellar, read the meter and then leave.

The same happened when another man arriving once a month would yell "light man,", and go to the electric meter to read how much you'd be charged for that month.

By now you probably are asking "didn't she EVER lock the back door?"
Of course not, there wasn't any such thing as , or at least very little of, crime, like happens these days. Mother trusted all those vistors

You get the idea now don't you. Honest people brought things to homes, read meters and many times helped Mother with chores around the place.

The swill man title probably stumps you. He was the old time garbage disposer. a farmer who raised pgs. Pigs got fattened up on swill, the old time name for garbage.

Mother disposed of the garbage at our house by putting it in a pail in the backyard. About once a week. someimes more often, farmer John would come along and with a big barrel over his back, go into the backyard and empty Mother's swill pail into his, then go to the next yard.

There was the rag man, too. With his horse and wagon, he'd come down the strees calling out " rags, rags, anybody got rags today?" Mother did on occasion and would go to the street and hand old Andy her collections of stuff for which he'd pay a few pennies.

I asked Mother what he did with the rags. She explained that Andy's wife would wash the rags, cut them in squares and make dish cloths from some and maybe, when she found a nice picture or pattern in the rags, she would cut the picture neatly and sell the suares to ladies who made bed quilts for people who needed them to keep warm in the winter

Another fellow whose name was Bunk - yes, that's right, Bunk - who'd come down the street with his horse and wagon, calling out "here comes's Bunk, got any junk for Bunk?" Worn-out pans, tin cans any other old metal, always was welcome. Bunk would weigh what he got and pay out a few nickels or dimes .

The fish man and the vegetable man - they don't need any explanation do they?

What did the scissors man do" He sharpened scissors, and also knives, axes, shovels and anything else that needed a sharp edge.

And lastly was the Fuller Brush Man. He's gone nowadays in most parts of the country but Fuller Brush is still a well known name, the brushes now being sold in the little catalogs you get every few months in the mail.

Mother always welcomed this drummer, who'd show up every month, demonstrate some new type of brush and if Mother wanted it, take her order to deliver on his next sales round. Most always he had some kind of a free sample, often for us kids.

He also was a walking newspaper. Always had something to tell us that we did not know, like what kind of a tie the president liked, what color shoes a certain Broadway actress prefered or sometimes what neighbor just had a baby and what kind of a gift he had for Mother to buy for the new mother!

Oh, you want to know what a drummer was? No, wasn't Harry. The drummer was a salesman. "Drummer" once meant salesman.

Most of those customs do not exist any more but I wouldn't be surprised if in some rural areas there still are some men making rounds. Most all those customs I've talked about are New England happenings but now that I'm a southerner, I've been reminded there were some similar customs down here too.

For instance, the potato man, the sweet-potato man and probably the watermelon man. And I do really remember one down here while I was working at the local newspaper 25 years ago - the burrito man.

Sure, I've probably forgotten lots of other titles, too, and I'll probably have somebody telling me along the line soon.

- 30 -
Old Newsie


  1. Some fond memories here, even at my "young" age. I do remember the milk man and the Fuller Brush man. Thank you for the nostalgia.

  2. I just remember the milk man, but how fascinating. It would be nice to feel that safe in ones home again. Chica

  3. In Levittown we had a Pizza man! But I'll never forget the magic hairbrushes the Fuller Brush Man sold us. White with nylon bristles that imbued your hair with static electricity at all times. Scrabblebuff and I used to sit under the covers in the dark and make sparks by brushing our hair!

  4. Boy does this bring back some memories! Thanks, Charlie.