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By Staff | Aug 27, 2010

Judging by the numbers of visitors, our farm was a pretty important place when I was a kid.

Foremost among the callers was the milk man, who picked up our milk every other day. He would hoist a 10-gallon can of milk in each paw, carry them as easily as sacks of feathers, and toss them lightly into his box-shaped truck.

The milk man had biceps the size of hams, nothing at all like the rubbery ropes that hung from my shoulders.

The egg man also came on a regular basis. He, too, had a boxy truck, although he used much more care when he loaded the crates of eggs we had so carefully gathered and washed.

Picking eggs was one of the first chores kids were assigned at our farm, part of a plot by our parents to flout child labor laws. Some of our hens didn’t care for our daily nest robbing, so picking eggs often included a good deal of pecking.

Feed salesmen were drawn to our farm as flies to warm molasses. Dad listened patiently as these wannabe Willy Lomans extolled the benefits of their chicken chow, sow supplements, and cow concentrates. We kids hung nearby and listened, hoping to seem like an integral part of the decision-making process -even though the only decisions we made involved what kind of jelly we slapped onto our toast.

Our farm received visitors of many stripes, including the Watkins guy and the Fuller Brush salesman.

The Fuller Brush guy must have salivated when he first pulled into our farmyard. Here are eight kids running around outside, getting all kinds of filthy. Surely our household was in dire need of Fuller’s full line of scrub brushes!

The Fuller Brush man always drove a nice car. This in itself was enough to rouse our curiosity, but there was also the Fuller Brush man himself.

He was clean, his hands were remarkably uncalloused, and he was impeccably dressed in a suit and tie – and it wasn’t even Sunday! We could only assume that he had to attend a funeral later that day.

The Fuller Brush guy would be admitted into the farmhouse. After a bit of polite patter with Mom, he would open his satchel full of Fuller Brushes. We gathered in like nosy kids and gawked, slack-jawed, at the bristly wonders.

“Now here’s a nice bath brush,” he might say, eyeing me meaningfully. Most of the time I was hopelessly grubby from head to toe, unless it happened to be a day when I was trying to catch water bugs in the stock tank. Then, my forearms and hands would be relatively clean.

I don’t think Mom ever made any major brush purchases from the Fuller Brush guy. The poor man must have seen eight grimy kids and thought “bingo!” Our parents looked at those same eight kids and thought “broke.”

We had a similar experience with the Watkins man. He probably pulled into the yard and saw us kids constructing mud pies – top-quality mud pies, made with dirt sifted through the cylindrical screen of a discarded oil filter – and thought “pay dirt!” Our parents knew the truth, which was “dirt poor.”

One visitor who was thoroughly honored and revered was the TV repairman.

Yes, kids, there once was a time when televisions weren’t tossed away as casually as fast food wrappers. TVs were almost considered a member of the family, along the lines of a doting old aunt or an affable cousin.

But those Flintstone-era sets weighed approximately as much as a fully grown rhinoceros. Getting our TV to the repair shop was about like wrangling amassive and dyspeptic wild beast.

Which is why the repairman was summoned whenever our TV went on the blink. The first time he hauled the TV’s innards out of its wooden cabinet I was disappointed to learn that it didn’t house a village of tiny people.

The repairman brought with him a large and fascinating carrying case that had an infinity of nested compartments, each stuffed with vacuum tubes in snug cardboard boxes. We had not the faintest idea of how any of it – the carrying case or the vacuum tubes -worked.

He also had a testing device for the tubes. I held my breath as I waited for the verdict of “this one’s OK” or “tube’s shot,” silently hoping for each tube to pass its test. Holding my breath and silently hoping was pretty much the same strategy I used for taking tests in school.

These days hardly anyone comes calling at our farm. Maybe it’s due to the sign at the end of our driveway that says “All salesmen will be scrubbed!” Or maybe it’s because we just aren’t as important anymore.

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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