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  • Helen Row Toews

Prairie Wool

Door-to-door

“Great,” I said aloud as I checked my computer this morning. “Another load of junk mail to deal with.” This time I received: offers for proven weight-loss medications (I resent those), a loan approval I hadn’t asked for, warnings that a service I’ve never used was about to expire, and coupons offering reduced-price help for my ailing prostate. However, lurking at the bottom of the list was the one that hurt the most. Apparently, I can now receive compensation for my long-awaited brain injury claim. I haven’t had a brain injury!

Back in the day, there used to be door-to-door salespeople to do this job. I remember them well. Of course, I don’t think anyone ever peddled male enhancement drugs throughout the countryside or drove into your yard to issue false threats on behalf of the government, as we get in emails now. They sold brushes, vacuums, and encyclopedias.

Our family entertained a few of these salespeople. Most often, they were local folks just trying to make an honest living like the lovely man who sold Watkins. He appeared at our door for a visit, as much as to sell us anything. He was a trusted friend.

Often my mother would invite the Watkins Man in for a cup of tea. We would watch as he’d open his worn brown case and display exotic spices and gleaming bottles of vanilla alongside tins of beneficial liniment and salve. No one in my family fought the common cold without a scoop of Watkins liniment rubbed briskly on their chest. Nor could they bake a cake without a dash of excellent vanilla flavouring.

Even in the 80s, when I was newly married, there were door-to-door salesmen. I’ve had Rainbow vacuum cleaner demonstrations across the rug, samples from Avon hung on the door, and fire extinguishers for every occasion presented from the backend of a truck.

The last traveling salesman I remember at the farm addressed me through the top two inches of his vehicle window. Goldie, Dad’s German shepherd, had approached the man’s car with hackles raised, bared teeth, and a low growl rumbling from her barrel-like chest.

“Is it safe,” he yelled fearfully. I nodded. Then I stood with a calming hand on Goldie’s head as he pushed open his door and gingerly lowered a foot to the gravel. With his eyes flicking warily between the dog and me, the man extended a pamphlet in one hand and clutched an empty pop bottle in the other. Strange.

I glanced at the glossy brochure. He was selling security systems. How ironic.

He backed away and launched into a well-rehearsed lecture on the importance of protecting your home from thieves. 

It all seemed a bit pointless when our entire conversation was conducted over the head of a barely restrained guard dog. Despite that, his lecture went well. There was one bizarre thing, though. After every few words, the fellow would pause, lift the bottle to his pursed lips and push a glob of spittle down the neck. With revolted fascination, my eyes followed the long trail of bubbly saliva as it oozed down the plastic insides to join a frothy puddle at the bottom. Blech. 

Anyway, that last bit has nothing to do with door-to-door salesmen. I’m not sure it has much to do with anything—at least for us. 

However, although the bottle incident was objectionable, talking with him was still more interesting than deleting fifty-five emails today.

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