“Shulton is here.” This was the standard all alert call when Shulton (our door to door Watkins salesman) pulled into our driveway.
The J.R. Watkins Co. was founded in 1868 in the home of J.R. Watkins in Plainview, Minnesota. The company sold household products in the form of utensils, spices, soaps, vitamins, ointments, fly swatters and dozens of other items.
Despite being a national company, their door to door salespeople found their way into rural America, even into the outreaches of Camp Springs, through the likes of Shulton, our local salesman. I can use the term salesMAN in its most literal interpretation because never do I recall a female salesperson of any sort visiting our house.
Shulton was an absolute unique person both to see and listen to. By the way, the name Shulton was all that I ever knew him by. I am guessing that Shulton was his last name? His summer visits were what I remember most vividly, probably because I was at home on summer vacation from school and got to meet and listen to him using his sales pitch on my Mother.
It is easy for me to still envision him just as if he had visited our house yesterday. He was short in stature, extremely slim, long pointy nose and pale looking. Actually, he looked as though he needed to be consuming every health supplement that he was selling. Bespeckled and always dressed in a sportcoat or sweater, dress slacks, collared shirt with a long skinny necktie and topped with a hat, he was always in the same or similar attire. After his polite greeting, he would remove his hat revealing his thinning hair combed from front to back, just as my Dad combed his hair and just as I do now. Growing up, I always swore that I would never brush my hair in that old-fashioned manner yet today I look in the mirror and guess what, I am my Dad. Oh yes, Shulton also sold combs and hair brushes.
The sales arena was our back porch, with Shulton and my Mother seated at the picnic table that my Dad had made and that I still have today. Shulton was the very politest of polite. It never failed that he needed to go back to his car to retrieve an additional product that might interest my Mother. This may have been his sales ploy to allow my Mother additional minutes to stew over potential purchases.
I have yet to mention Shulton’s most distinguishing attribute. He spoke in a herky-jerky speech pattern. It was almost as though he was suffering from asthma or shortness of breath and needed to grab a breath between short phrases. Being the insensitive pre-teen that I was at the time and also to display my ability with mimicry, I reveled in speaking to family members sounding as much like Shulton as I could.
My Mother would always purchase something and to this day, I sincerely believe that most of her purchases were made simply to help in his sales and believe me, our family did not have excess cash lying around to spend on unnecessary items but that was the kindness of my Mother showing. Still love you Rie (my Mother)!