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Part one of a two-part story

Household goods salesmen and delivery men regularly stopped at my parents’ home in West Newton when I was growing up in the late 1940s and early 1950s. In fact, they were our most regular visitors.

That time was well before the proliferation of mail-order catalogs, let alone on-line purchasing, and it took place, too, even before the shopping mall became ubiquitous. These house-to-house entrepreneurs were the counterparts in Mom’s domestic realm of Dad’s office-to-office sales calls for building his office stationery business in the commercial realm.

We — Mom and my sister, Jean, and I when the two of us were at home and not attending school — encountered several such salesmen once and in some cases twice each week. Most we never knew by name nor did we learn much about their family life, but each brought a bit of the outside world into our home no matter how brief their conversations with us.

Mr. Kearney, the fruit and vegetable salesman, would park his box truck in our drive at least once a week and enter Mom’s kitchen to confer briefly with her about what bargains he had and to take her order.

Occasionally he’d invite me to climb into his truck to help him select what we’d consider were the best of each type of fruit or vegetable Mom wanted. I’d step into his portable farm stand by a set of steps inside the truck’s side door. Down each side and along the back of his vehicle he had built shelves and set out fruits and vegetables in astonishing diversity in bins and boxes. Kearney would fill a bag with potatoes, say, and weigh the filled bag on his hanging scale, then mark his price on the side of the bag in black crayon.

He’d bring a fistful of bags into the kitchen and present his toted-up sum to Mom. As she reached into her purse for the money, Kearney, ever the pleasant salesman, would chat, always adding some small tidbit of news.

Almost as frequent a caller was the Cushman Bakery man. He was one of the few salesmen who wore an industrial uniform — black with a white shirt to match the colors of his company’s delivery truck. Unlike Kearney, who lived in another area of Newton and got his produce in Boston, the Cushman Bakery’s home base was in Lynn. This salesman had a more formal, less open personality than Kearney’s. I liked his dry humor.

Cushman pies, white bread, brown bread to go with baked beans, and cakes were a common part of our diet. Mom did supplement with her own baked specialties. Occasionally too we’d walk the half dozen blocks to West Newton Square to purchase specialty baked goods at Dorothy Muriel’s, until that bakery was absorbed into the Star Market chain. The trip to the Square was always by foot — quite an outing — since Mom never got her driver’s license until after Dad had died.

I rather envied the Cushman man’s job, since he had constant access to a huge array of baked goods. He could reach them simply by opening up his truck’s rear doors and stepping into its dim, sweet-smelling interior, reminding me of a church sanctuary. I especially liked times when Mom asked me to pick out some baked goods item I wanted for the family, and the Cushman man would lay out a small array of goodies from which I might choose.

Another regular was the egg and poultry man, an elderly gentleman, always dressed in a seedy gray-brown suit with a tie and always needing a shave. He drove a definitely older model car. Invariably he’d be accompanied by his wife, equally as aged as he and also all dressed up, who would never leave the car.

He was always good natured, even if a bit infirm and hard of hearing. You had to shout what you wanted to say to him, but he’d hear you and respond in a very loud, husky voice. He told us his farm was located in Maynard, quite far from our home.

On the average of once a month an S.S. Pierce truck would make a delivery of some specialty grocery items to our house that Mom had ordered by telephone. While most of our itinerant salesmen remained on the job for years, we saw several S.S. Pierce sales and delivery people, each friendly and courteous. S.S. Pierce men, I think, always wore brown uniforms.

The delivery man would bring into the house and carefully go over each of the imported tea and coffee and other items Mom had ordered, bring in samples of items on sale that she could purchase on the spot, and give her a new copy of the company’s monthly magazine, The Epicure, listing items of special interest for the upcoming month. Mom would then order what she wanted by telephone for delivery the next month.

On more like a quarterly basis a rack truck from Nobscot Beverages in Framingham would pop into our driveway. Here was our main supply of soft drinks brought to the house directly from the bottler. Dad would want a whole case of twelve quart bottles of gingerale. I liked the company’s sarsaparilla, and Mom had to have root beer for her root-beer floats. To add variety we would occasionally get golden gingerale, cream soda or a fruit-flavored soft drink.

The Nobscot Beverage drivers weren’t salesmen; Mom ordered by phone when supplies got low. Invariably these delivery men would be young people, always friendly.

I must not forget the milkman, whom I rarely saw since he parked his truck in the street and jogged to our side door to make his deliveries early every other day, before I was up. He would leave chocolate-flavored milk, cottage cheese, heavy cream, and even orange juice in addition to quart-sized glass bottles of milk. He’d place our order in a special insulated metal box permanently set just outside our side door – a box similar to one you sometimes see now outside doctors’ offices containing specimens to be picked up and taken to a lab for analysis. I’d often hear the milkman clinking together the empty glass bottles we would put out for him as he gathered them up to take back to the dairy with him.

The milk man came from Ferndale Dairy, located in Weston beyond the outer fringe of suburban developments. I remember being thrilled to visit the farm on at least one occasion as a youngster, a trip that reinforced my dream to have a farm of my own some day.

As much a delivery man as the milk man was the ice man. Yes, I admit to being familiar with the tail end of the time before electric refrigerators when Mom used an ice chest to keep perishable foods and beverages. Mom would place a placard in the front window of our house to indicate to the ice man the amount of ice we required.

The Metropolitan Ice Company man would open the back of his truck, clamber in, and, using tongs, shift a big block of ice to the rear door. Then he’d hop down and, once on the ground, he’d grapple the ice block with his tongs and sling it over his shoulder. The ice would rest on a rubber mat he had draped over the shoulder so that he wouldn’t get wet. Then he’d be off, shouldering his weighty load up our side steps and into the kitchen to place the ice directly into the ice chest. Never did I see him drop a block or even stagger, let alone complain, under the largest load.

To be continued next week.