Art of conversation dies with door-to-door sales - WTRF 7 News Sports Weather - Wheeling Steubenville

Art of conversation dies with door-to-door sales

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Dolly Withrow Dolly Withrow

A retired English professor, Dolly Withrow is the author of four books, including "The Confident Writer" a grammar-based college textbook. 

"Let us make a special effort to stop communicating with each other, so we can have some conversation." — Mark Twain.

When I was a child, sales reps often visited Brickyard Hill, and each became friends with whom we held long conversations. We had time then. I can still see Miss Morris. She had salt-and-pepper hair twisted in a tight bun at the crown of her head. A couple of wavy tendrils hung loosely on either side of her face. Thin to the point of looking emaciated, she nonetheless demonstrated vigorous strength. My mom called her wiry. She was. 

Climbing our hill on any given summer day when the air was sticky with humidity, she lugged a large black satchel. It bulged with catalogs and advertisements of the latest Maisonette frocks. The catalogs boasted colorful pictures of models wearing beautiful dresses. Miss Morris was a saleslady proud of her wares. There were no jeans featured in her books, and like all women during that period, she wore only dresses. Flat-heeled shoes and hose completed each of her outfits. 

By the time she arrived to sit in the shade of our front porch, she was ready for a glass of cold water and for a bit of neighborhood gossip. Sometimes she ate her lunch, which she told us was always the same, a single candy bar. She sat for a while, then retrieved a heavy catalog from her satchel and passed it over to one of my aunts or my mother. They took turns browsing while Miss Morris donned her metal-framed glasses that hung around her neck on a silver chain. Her glasses perched on the end of her nose, and when she looked out and above them her pale blue eyes sparkled with anticipation of a sale. But visiting was as important to her as a sale. 

At other times, sales reps from various companies called on us. One salesman sold sterling silverware. I don't remember the name of the company, but the rep convinced me it was high time I buy something for my hope chest. Hope chests were still popular in the late '40s and early '50s, for the end-all in most young girls' lives was to land a husband. So I purchased a starter set of solid sterling silverware, Lady Hilton pattern. A few weeks later, the salesman brought my silver in a mahogany box lined with rich green felt. Working at a local bank, I paid a little on it each month until the final payment was made. I still have a few tarnished pieces in the back of a cabinet drawer. Even in retirement, there's no time for polishing silverware. 

The Fuller brush salesman also visited frequently. My grandmother purchased brooms from him. A coffee salesman, who drove on the hill in a white van, came and sat on a bench to chat. Door-to-door selling and buying offered opportunities for human contact, for conversation, for catching up on the world beyond our limited neighborhood. 

Human contact today is ebbing. We can sit in front of our computers and order everything from bikes to books. If we don't like ordering online, we can go to a large chain store and search for merchandise. Finding what we want in most stores is difficult because there are too few employees to help us. 

Several years later, when most sales reps had already stopped making calls, I heard that a car had struck Miss Morris, the wiry Maisonette frock saleslady, as she stepped off a Charleston city bus. She was instantly killed. We were saddened by the loss of a close friend. Her death has since become a symbol to me of the end of an era that will not return. With every gain there is loss. We now enjoy conveniences we would not want to give up, but the cost has been less human contact and fewer face-to-face visits on shady front porches.

While "thumbers" text one another, using LOL and other acronyms and initialisms, the art of conversation is dying, and its death symbolizes the end of yet another era and a great loss to humanity. 

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