September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
Y'all wanna buy some gates?
They were always from the South, and had the accents to prove it. It seemed like most were out of Kentucky; for a Wisconsin farm kid seeing license plates from that far away seemed almost exotic. They would drive north from their homes with their truckload of gates, go farm to farm selling them until they were sold out, and then return home for another load.
They stopped by our little dairy farm often enough that the phrase "Y'all wanna buy some gates," become part of my family's vernacular. Even now, 18 years after my parents sold the farm, we still occasionally drawl the phrase out to one another.
Our dog, Patches, wasn't mean, but she was territorial enough to give them pause before they stepped out of the cab. If they caught us outside they would just lean out the window and holler, "Y'all wanna buy some gates?" Other times they would lean up against the frame of the barn door to chat us up.
My family laughed for a long time about one gate salesman who got out of his truck moving all casual until Patches came out barking. He jumped on top of the picnic table to save himself, not knowing that Patches used to sleep on top of the picnic table when she wasn't sleeping in the haymow.
These were smooth talking southern boys. More than once we were subject to the sappy I gotta get back home cuz' my honey is a-missing me story. "Y'all can get a good deal on gates today 'cuz I only have a few left and my wife is a-waitin' on me back home. I probably shouldn't be gone too long, now should I? Y'all will help a fella out, won't ya?"
There were other regular visitors to the little world that was our farm. Our particular Schwan's ice cream man was an extremely annoying character. If you didn't answer the door he used to go ahead and come on in. He'd stand just inside the door, craning his neck and holler, "You-who! Anyone home?"
If he actually caught you, he would not stop until you bought something. He would stand there and list products from memory until something caught your fancy. He'd ramble on and on, "We have peppermint ice cream right now. How about frozen vegetables? How about some cod loins? Frozen pizzas are good. You ever try those? We have vanilla, chocolate, Neapolitan, butter pecan... you like that butter pecan. You've gotten that before. Do you need any of that today?"
If you said no to all that he'd launch into another round until you said yes to something.
My mom actually used to hide from him. I remember giggling with my mom in the bedroom, half-scared that the guy would actually wander around yelling "you-who!" until he found us.
There was also the old man with the wooden leg (yes, it was literally a wooden leg; the only one I have ever seen) that sold Watkins, Fuller Brushes and such from his car. It was packed from door to door, floor to ceiling with products, with a little area carved out where he sat. He had some crazy system that he always knew where stuff was, but it looked like a pack-rat's nest.
He moved really slowly. Mom would sometimes yell out to him that she didn't need anything before he started up the sidewalk, but if he made it to the door she always bought something from him, even if she had three bottles of vanilla in the cupboard already. I often followed him out to get the item so he didn't have to trudge up to the house again.
There was also, of course, the Avon lady, but her eccentric personality pales in comparison to the memory of the gate salesmen. Some families still run around saying, "Ding-dong, Avon calling," but at our house it will always be "Y'all wanna buy some gates?"