Shopping in a different time and way.

Years ago a great deal of shopping was done from peddlers who were then considered respectable businessmen. Now peddlers have rather a bad name but in years past they were welcome visitors to isolated farm homes.

Back when our country was young, peddlers carried everything from pins, lace, ribbons, and cloth to clocks, pots, pans, and the proverbial wooden nutmeg. Most of these men went afoot or horseback due to lack of roads, following trails through virgin forests to single cabins or small settlements.

There were even portrait painters who carried half-finished canvasses they had spent the winter preparing. These depicted men's, women's and children's bodies in elegant dress from which the customer chose to have his features painted in the empty face. Wouldn't a hard-working pioneer woman, accustomed to drab linsey-woolsey, enjoy having her portrait dressed in gleaming green or canary silk? And all for the price of 2 or 3 days food and lodging with perhaps a silver coin or a pelt or two to use for trade-goods.

When I was a girl I sometimes went with Pa on his grocery route. He carried goods to out-lying farms where regular customers awaited him. Some of his pay was in eggs, butter, or fresh produce, but some was in hard money. Mostly he delivered specified orders the women had given him the time before but he always carried extras to tempt them. There were jars of hard candies, spices, tea, and coffee blending their aromas inside the closed green wagon body.

Actually the grocery wagon was a small store with shelves, bins, and a scales. Pa's scales were often pressed into use to weigh a baby. How I loved being allowed to hold the warm, often moist bundle after that ceremony while the mother completed her shopping. There were no disposable diapers or even "rubber pants" for babies back then.

I doubt anyone today has ever seen a "meat wagon". A butcher would hang quarters of fresh meat around the sides of his cart and drive about the streets, cutting off chunks to the housewives order. The meat became fly-blown and even a bit high after a few hours in the open but folks were used to that.

The milk man wheeled his cart down the streets and ladled milk into proffered basins. I suppose he carried home what milk was left over and fed it to his pigs. Milk delivered in glass bottles was considered a great improvement. Cream rose to the top and was carefully poured off for Pa's coffee. In winter came the fun of finding the paper tops had been lifted by frozen cream if you didn't take in the bottles soon after the milkman left them on the porch. That changed again with homoginization but by then, home delivery was nearly discontinued.

In season came the banana man, his cart hung with great hands of bananas. What a treat they were. A new delicacy which we learned to love and now accept as an every day, year round fruit.

An umbrella man in green frock coat and top hat wheeled a push-cart full of black silk "grandfather's bumbershoots" and dainty parasols for sale. He could also mend a broken rib or replace a tip on your umbrella if needs be.

A stooped but still strong old man pushed his wheelbarrow-mounted grindstone around town. The cry of "Sharpie knifie, Shears too" brought many a child running to way-lay him till mama could come with whatever needed his attention. He was a gnome-like figure, his short frame bent by the weight of his stone and his habitual hunch over it when sharpening a blade. Grizzled moustashes hid his lips and his dark eyes squinted from under bushy brows despite the wide brim of his old soft hat. The more timid among the children fled to the front porch when he came down the street.

The coal man, too, is nearly unknown today since most houses are heated by gas, oil or electricity. Years ago the coal wagon pulled by round rumped, dapple-grays was presided over by a large, jolly, sweat-streaked, coal-dust covered man who brought his wide smile and gentle courtesy into every kitchen.

"Run out and watch for the coalman," Ma would say, "Tell him I need a sack today."

Seated on the horseblock, legs dangling, I could see other children up and down the steet waiting on the same errand. This coal was to be burned in the kitchen range in place of wood.

Coal, gleaming with unexpected rainbow colors in the sunlight, sometimes gave up ancient treasures. If the coalman was your friend, he might tuck away a special piece for your collection. Perhaps there would be a strange fern found pictured in it or a weird creature trapped in the relentless vise which formed the coal so long ago.

Later, when folks had central heat, the coal truck would back into the drive, slide its shiny shute in through the cellar window and let loose a rattling black stream. This operation usually occasioned the gathering of all the children from the neighborhood to watch the truckbed rise on one side. And the coalman climbing in with his shovel to sent the stray pieces on their way was exciting to watch.

The vegetable man is another visitor I miss. His clanging bell and the clop, clop of his horses hooves alerted children and mothers alike that Barney was on his way. Perched on the high wagon seat, onion and garlic braids and sprays of dried dill festooning the fringed top of his wagon, he made his daily rounds.

In the spring, Barney had vegetable seedlings, geranium, petunia, and marigold plants, tender green onions, and juicy strawberries. Later there would be crisp cabbage, lettuce, ruby beets, yellow turnip, and sweet red onions. Everything was "fresh" "sweet" and "good" Barney assured customers, munching a pea pod or lettuce leaf as proof.

Barney had several horses over the years, most of which seemed to be named Nelly, except one which I recall as Rosa. Whatever her name, the mare was continually being commanded to "whoa" as she edged nearer the grassy roadside. Occasionally, when he left the wagon standing on Main Street, Nelly in disgust at the lack of grass, would head for home pursued by an angry Barney, his short legs pumping and his English deteriorating rapidly. Probably it was just as well the lady shoppers didn't understand Italian.

The ice man's delivery wagon is one more experience that children are deprived of today. The wagon and later truck, dripped its way down the street followed by eager-eyed boys and bolder girls, awaiting the chance to grab a chip of ice and run. O, the delicious coldness of it on a hot day!

The great cakes of ice were covered with canvas and the dampness of that plus the water-soaked wooden floor combined in an unique aroma. While the burly, canvas-apron clad ice man,his shoulder padded against the cold burden he slung over it with flashing tongs, made his way to the family icebox, children raided the truck. Usually there were chips and slivers of the clear, silvery ice waiting to be pounced on but occasionally a bolder boy would chip a piece from a big cake. This act was considered very daring and when discovered by the ice man, brought angry threats streaming after the rapidly disappearing culprit.

Peddling these days is done on the internet. It's not as friendly or as much fun and there are no ice chips to be had on a hot summer day.