Long ago, back through the mists of time to around 1938, my parents had been married about a year. Ida and Sam have been gone from this earth for some time now, but I feel compelled to tell you the tale of the Fuller Brush Man’s visit.
The Fuller Brush Company had become well known over the years for the use of door-to-door salesmen to pitch their products. What were these products? Why, brushes! Brushes for sweeping, mopping, dusting, scrubbing, scooping, painting and smoothing – all the brushes a busy housewife of that era could possibly need.
In popular culture, the earliest appearance of a “Fuller Brush Man” was when the Big Bad Wolf disguised himself as one [at 6:06 in this YouTube video] in Disney’s 1933 Academy Award-winning Three Little Pigs.
So: There was Ida (my mom), at home during the day in 1938, perhaps cooking up a storm for the dinner she’d have later with her husband (my dad) of one year, Sam. (My big brother and I hadn’t entered the scene yet.)
DING-DONG. Ida goes to open the door. She opens it wide to reveal a smiling man with a very large suitcase. He doffs his hat to her, saying, “Good afternoon, ma’am. I hope I’m not disturbing you. I’m from the Fuller Brush Company.”
Okay, I made that part up. Yes, the doorbell rang, yes, Ida answered it, but after that I only know that she politely let him in. As she related it to me, they sat on the chesterfield (sofa, if you insist), as he showed her one brush after another. His sales patter was mesmerizing! Every brush seemed specially designed for her needs. At the same time, though, she was mindful of the very tight budget she and Sam were living on. They had a little dry-goods store but business was very slow, and bills were piling up.
But my mom felt sympathy for the Fuller Brush Man. After all, he was trying so hard, he’d come all this way, he’d spent all this time showing her brush after brush after brush…
SOLD! Ida bought several brushes. She was happy. The Fuller Brush Man was happy. She waved goodbye as he left. Case closed.
But not really.
A couple of hours later, my father – Sam – came home. He saw the brushes my mom, Ida, had bought. He asked about their origin, so Ida nonchalantly told him about the visit of the Fuller Brush Man.
And all hell broke loose. Sam turned into someone Ida had never seen before. He went berserk. This part is true. “What?! You let him in?!! Are you crazy?!!? You don’t know what he could’ve done!! He could’ve been anybody!!! What’s the matter with you??!!! How could you let a stranger into the house?!!??” And on and on.
All through his screaming tirade, during which his face got very red and he was, as my mom put it, “frothing at the mouth,” she said not a word. This was probably the wisest course, she realized then, and I realize now. Had she said a peep in her defence, he would have overruled her by yelling even louder.
He eventually calmed down and apologized. But this was a harbinger of many fits of rage to come. How she endured them, I can’t imagine. But I will tell you a few things.
- She never yelled back.
- At those times, and many other hard times, her motto was always, “This too shall pass.” And they did.
- She outlived him by 10 years, until she was 92. These were the happiest years of her life. 🙂
Epilogue: My take is this. The reason Sam was so enraged was that he was terrified of losing his wife. My father was terribly dependent on her from the get-go, and throughout their long marriage. Many other fights I witnessed were due to his excessive fear; he apparently had no way of expressing this other than extreme anger. It’s too bad. He did have a good side to him too, which I wrote about here.