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Peripatetic peddlers

April 4, 2012
By Jerry Nelson , Marshall Independent

Traveling salesmen were the bane of my existence when I was a young dairy farmer. I looked forward to a salesman pulling onto the yard as much as a stubbed toe or a violent sneeze in the midst of a severe case of the trots.

Dad was just the opposite. He actually welcomed salesmen and often invited them in for coffee. He treated them as if they were, I don't know, human.

Because of this, Dad and I never accomplished much whenever a salesman appeared on our farmstead. Dad would visit with him for a while, then utter that time-annihilating phrase, "Let's go in for a cup of coffee!"

This would guarantee the loss of an hour or more while the salesman and Dad yakked and slurped coffee and chewed though a dozen of Mom's sugar cookies. It drove me crazy! I just wanted to get stuff done!

But there was nothing for it. Even if it was the salesman's first call, Dad would welcome him like a long-lost buddy.

Dad would pump the sales guy for the latest news. Perhaps if we had been living out on an isolated frontier farm such questions as "Who is president nowadays?" and "How on earth did HE get in?" would have seemed appropriate. But Mom and Dad had a telephone and a television and a satellite dish! And they went to town on a regular basis!

My attitude toward these peripatetic peddlers was less charitable. Were it up to me, we would have hid in the barn until the slick sales reps came to the conclusion that nobody was home.

On a midwinter day, Bob, one of Dad's favorite feed salesman/ coffee chums, walked onto our farmyard. Bob explained that his pickup had slid off the road a short ways back and could we (meaning me) give him a tug with our tractor? I had little choice but to say yes.

I hooked a chain onto Bob's pickup as he clambered into its cab. The pickup sat at a steep angle; dislodging it from the ditch without rolling it would require great finesse.

I opened the tractor's throttle and dumped the clutch. Bob's pickup lurched and squirmed and teetered precariously. As the pickup leaped up onto the road, a sliver of daylight appeared beneath its front wheel.

Despite the cold, Bob was mopping flop sweat from his brow as I unhooked the chain. I casually asked if it had seemed like a close call.

"Only me and my laundry lady will know how close it was!" he replied.

My view regarding pitchmen gradually evolved as the years passed. For instance, I found that they can be a great source of entertainment.

Once, when I went to my parents' farm to do chores, I espied a salesman's vehicle sitting in the driveway. On the back steps sat the salesman's overboots, which gave me an idea.

When it was time for him to leave, the peddler had great difficulty donning his overboots. The source of his troubles proved to be walnut-sized pebbles that had somehow become lodged in the toes of said boots. Dad, an inveterate prankster himself, struggled to stifle a chuckle at the sight of the puzzled purveyor.

Another useful service provided by traveling hucksters was to serve as bad examples.

One autumn, a familiar sales guy came calling. We were incredibly busy with silage chopping, yet couldn't help but notice that it took several minutes for the salesman to disembark from his pickup. He hobbled over to us on a pair of crutches, his right foot encased in a cast.

We naturally wondered what had happened. He explained that he had been on a sales call the day before when the farmer he was visiting with unhitched a loaded silage wagon. The wagon began to roll away and the sales guy decided to use his foot as a chock.

I was going to ask how that worked out, but then thought better of it. No point in belaboring the obvious.

I gradually came to see salespeople as not nearly so loathsome as when I was young. And the capricious gods of Fate eventually arranged things in such a way that I now earn my daily bread as a traveling sales guy.

Mike, a feed sales rep we befriended a few years back, once said to me, "I don't see myself as a salesman. I'm just a guy who gets to help his friends solve their problems!"

I don't know what I want to be when I grow up, but being just like Mike would be a laudable goal. I only have to remember to stay out of the ditch and keep my feet away from silage wagons.

 
 

 

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