Farm visitors

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Judging by the number of visitors it received, my family’s humble 20-cow dairy farm was a pretty important place when I was a kid.

Foremost among our callers was the milkman, who collected our milk every other day. He would effortlessly hoist a 10-gallon can of milk in each hand and toss the cans lightly into the back of his truck. The milkman had biceps the size of hams, unlike the scrawny ropes that hung from my shoulders.

The egg man also visited on a regular basis. He used a lot more care than the milkman when he loaded the crates of our eggs into his box truck.

Gathering eggs was a chore given to little kids on our farm, a clear violation of child labor laws. Many of our hens took exception to our ovum thievery, so picking eggs often included a good deal of henpecking.

Feed salesmen were drawn to our farm like flies to warm molasses. Dad listened patiently as the wannabe Dale Carnegies extolled the virtues of their chicken chow or sow supplement or cattle concentrate. We kids hung around nearby, eavesdropping, hoping to create the impression that we were an integral part of the decision-making process even though the biggest decisions we ever made involved what kind of jelly we would put on our toast.  

Not all of our farm’s callers were ag-related. We also received visits from the Watkins guy and the Fuller Brush salesman.

The Fuller Brush salesman must have salivated when he pulled onto our farmstead. Look at those eight kids tearing around outdoors and getting all kinds of filthy. Surely our household was in dire need of Fuller’s full lineup of brushes.

The Fuller Brush guy always drove a new car. This in itself was enough to rouse our curiosity, but there was also the Fuller Brush man himself.

He was clean, his hands were remarkably uncalloused, and he wore an immaculate suit and tie. And, it wasn’t even Sunday. We could only assume that he had attended a funeral earlier that day.

Mom would admit the Fuller Brush guy into our farmhouse. After bantering a bit with Mom, he would open a humungous suitcase that brimmed with brushes and cleaning products. We kids would gather in and gawk, slack-jawed, at the universe of bristly wonders.

“Now here’s a nice bath brush,” the Fuller Brush man might say, looking at me meaningfully. I was usually grubby from head to toe, unless it happened to be a day when I was catching water bugs in the stock tank, in which case my forearms and hands would be relatively clean.

I don’t recall Mom making any major purchases from the Fuller Brush guy. The poor guy must have seen those eight grimy urchins and thought, “Bingo.” Our parents looked at those same kids and thought, “Broke.”

We had a similar experience with the Watkins man. He probably pulled onto our farmstead and saw a bunch of kids making mud pies — top-quality, hand-crafted mud pies, mind you — and thought, “Pay dirt!” Our parents knew the truth, which was dirt poor.

One visitor who was thoroughly revered was the TV repairman.

Believe it or not, there once was a time when televisions weren’t tossed away as casually as fast-food wrappers. Televisions were given a place of honor in the living room and treated as a cherished member of the family, not unlike a kindly old aunt.

Those ancient television sets weighed approximately as much as an adult rhinoceros. Transporting our TV to the repair shop in the backseat of our family sedan was like wrangling a massive and uncooperative wild beast.

This is why the repairman was summoned when our TV went on the blink. The first time he lugged our TV’s innards out of its wooden cabinet, I was disappointed to discover that they didn’t contain a village of tiny people.

The TV repairman had a carrying case that contained a fascinating array of nested compartments, each stuffed with vacuum tubes in their bespoke little cardboard boxes. I had not the foggiest notion how any of it — either the carrying case or the vacuum tubes — worked.

The repair guy used a special doohickey to test our TV’s vacuum tubes. I held my breath as I waited for his verdict of, “This one’s OK,” or “This tube’s shot,” silently hoping for each tube to pass its test. Holding my breath and silently hoping was also the strategy I used for taking tests at school.

Hardly anyone comes calling at our farm nowadays. Maybe it’s because of the sign at the end of our driveway that says, “Gourmet, hand-crafted mud pies for sale. Inquire within.”

Jerry is a recovering dairy farmer from Volga, South Dakota. He and his wife, Julie, have two grown sons and live on the farm where Jerry’s great-grandfather homesteaded over 110 years ago. Jerry works full time for Dairy Star as a staff writer and ad salesman. Feel free to email him at jerry.n@dairystar.com.

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