The Rolling Store
Life in the rural South in the 40’s was a little different than today. Kids today are growing up using an iPhone and tablets and laptops and are ordering from Amazon and iTunes routinely without so much as a second thought. I have come to using iTunes and other online gift cards as a solution to the birthday and Christmas present problems. In the rural South in the 40’s, none of that stuff existed.
Neither of my grandmothers ever drove a car. Another hard to believe fact. Neither did my great aunt down the road and my other great aunt that lived for a long time across from my grandparents (my mother’s folks). Between them they had about 30 kids! There was no such thing as jumping in the car to run to a Walmart. The nearest store was about 6 miles away. No quick trip to the ER for a cut finger for the Sandy Point kids.
There were no telephones in the rural areas due to the economics of getting service to those areas and when it did come, to start with, it was one line used by several families and was known as a party line. You said what you said on the phone with the understanding that someone could be listening. Even electricity was slow in getting to these families.
Trips to the grocery store were done on Saturday’s and they only got the basics as most of the food was in jars and cans in the pantry or in a cabinet on the back porch. Hand creams, make up, and household remedies were few and far between. Each family had a first aid kit of some kind and it usually consisted of a bottle of alcohol, some camphor, and liniment. Cuts might have some soot from the fireplace rubbed in to stop the bleeding. Maybe some peroxide. Mercurochrome, now unheard of by people under 30 or so, was a mainstay and used routinely as an over the counter antiseptic for scrapes and small cuts. It is now out of favor with the FDA in large part because it contained mercury although there is little evidence that too many people were killed using the stuff. Iodine, though still around, is now more commonly used in clinical settings than the home and tends to burn when applied to open cuts making it unpopular for the current crop of little darlings.
Then, along came the rolling store.
The rolling stores that I remember were old van, station wagon type vehicles or a pickup truck with a homemade shell with doors and compartments to carry all the products so they could be readily shown, accessed and sold. Some pictures on the internet show larger trucks up to the size of a moving van being used. Some were extensions of a grocery store or other mercantile establishment and some were local entrepreneurs who made a living taking goods to the rural households.
These folks came around periodically and could be heard blowing their horn or ringing a bell as they stopped out in the road or pulled up in the driveway. This was an exciting time for the folks who did not get to town much. Today, we still see a few ice cream and snow-cone trucks and the new phenomenon of the food truck and that’s about it.
Here, in the 30’s and 40’s were many of the items they might need and were running low on like flour, sugar or coffee. There were hair brushes and nets, salves and liniments, home remedies of all sorts for constipation and bad coughs, aching backs and cold sores, animal treatments and vet supplies, and personal care items. They always had some ringworm salve.
You would find some little bags of vegetable seeds and flowers seeds, too. And, of course, they would have snuff and chewing tobacco. Some were said to carry live chickens although I never saw one.
Best of all, there were all sorts of candies. Sugar Babies, Sugar Daddies candy on a stick, Mary Janes, Tootsie Rolls and peppermints! Penny Candies and Cokes! It was like Christmas, a birthday, and a trip to town all rolled up in your yard. A bright spot in the work-a-day world where mom or grand mom would have her egg money and would buy something just for herself.
Some of the rolling stores carried canned goods and some might have fresh eggs and might barter for goods along the way. In some case, they had plow parts and cloth on the larger trucks.
My father’s grandfather (my great grandfather) sold Watkins products and carried his goods in a case and took orders as he walked throughout his area in Sandy Point and Lizella. He had a farm and supplemented his income with Watkins Products. Others, of course used a vehicle to travel around.
My great grandfather died at 86, two years before I was born and rests now in the Dixon Church cemetery. He probably needed the rest after all that walking.
He also had salves, liniments, and other personal care and home remedies. This company employed about 18,000 people at one time and the Watkins Man earned a place in history along with the Fuller Brush man by serving a need in days gone by. Watkins products were all organic and natural, imagine that! Some of the rolling stores carried Watkins Products. Watkins products are sold today although I do not believe the line is as extensive as the old days. See them at: www.jrwatkins.com . This site gets 58,000 hits per month.
Here was a part of Americana. Here was a bright spot in the life of the rural wife, mother, and homemaker of the day. And, the kids always got a treat, too. One of those Sugar Daddy’s on a stick would taste real good right now.
Is that a car horn I hear? Maybe it’s the rolling store. Or, it’s probably the UPS man with my Amazon order.
© JC 2016