The Fuller Brush Man

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. πŸ™‚

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.

13 thoughts on “The Fuller Brush Man

  1. What a story! You and your mother were/are very wise. My Fuller Brush story is much simpler. It was about 1968, and the smiling Fuller Brush man touted his wares to me on the doorstep. I’d heard of these products and never seen them. I’m such a tightwad that all he persuaded me to buy was a toothbrush. He also gave me one of those bristly things that you put under a bar of soap to keep it from melting in the soap dish. Well, the handle of the toothbrush broke before he made his rounds again in my neighborhood, but I still have the soap saver. I got up to make sure I was right, and there it was in my bathroom, still proclaiming Fuller on its face.

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    1. I gather his wares didn’t include warranties! Haha! That soap saver is something I wish I had, never heard of such an item before! Yours is kind of an antique by now, huh? lol!

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  2. I was a Fuller Brush man during the summer of 1966. I had just completed my first year at McGill University. The Fuller Brush company store had advertised in the Montreal Star that they were looking for door to door representatives and students were welcome to apply! That the store front was within walking distance from home was a bonus. I was outfitted with a case full of product samples, a pile of circulars which advertised the specials of the month as well as their regular line, and, most important, a supply of the “free gifts” which would serve as “the foot in the door”. The pitch was easy enough…ask for the “lady of the house”, offer “free samples”, and a promise to show the specials of the month. Back in 1966, little thought was given to allowing in the Fuller Brush man; rarely would I be turned away. I recall that I did very well with the month’s special when it was the oven cleaner and the oven protector sprays which were cheaper when purchased as a pair. I recall giving away the soap-savers, the combs, the football shaped plastic coin wallets, and the very popular reusable pop bottle caps. I was named the “salesman of the month” in July 1966 and I still have the cufflinks given to me as a prize. I enjoyed my stint as a door to door salesman but did not return the next summer…Expo 67 was on my mind and I worked that summer at Expo at “Nuts and Things” selling chips, nuts and on hot day, cut up water melon! Great memories!

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    1. Wow!! Thanks sooo much for sharing these amazing memories, Dan, and in such detail! Incredible the amount of stuff we remember, isn’t it?! Did your cufflinks have “Fuller” stamped on them? Were they shaped like toilet brushes? BAHAHA that’s mean of me, so silly! lol! The Expo 67 gig was probably way more fun for you!! It was such an exciting time! You should start a blog yourself and write about all this, you are a very good writer! Thanks for stopping by! (BTW I couldn’t help noticing that in your email address it says “bluesman” (As a blogger I get to see that, if you’re commenting as a non-blogger) – do you perform in montreal? Anyway, thanks again!

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  3. Ron’s post has triggered a very amazing story about your dear parents πŸ™‚
    Last things first, I’m actually glad you added that epilogue because it adds insight into your father’s personality and his behavior.

    How could he not feel the way he did based on his own personal beliefs, history and experiences.

    Ah..but Queen Diva Ms. Ida understood your father, which is why she acted the way she did.
    One thing is for sure, you really can’t meet fire with fire…it takes too much of your energy and it never really changes anybody’s stance.

    Queen Diva Ms. Ida is quickly becoming one of my SHE-roes! LOL!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank u for your astute words of wisdom, my lovely Lady G!! For sure, the fire vs. fire thing *never* works, makes stuff worse… Heh, Ms. Ida sure was one of *my* idols, u can bet on that!! πŸ˜€

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