Three vignettes

By Terry Economy | Jul 14, 2016

Watching people

One of my favorite pastimes is watching people. During my profession I have the opportunity to meet and deal with all kinds of people. I like most peole who make this fascinating world of ours. Good and bad. Young and old. In fact, I am going to be a professsional people-watcher when I retire.

It does not cost too much, just time. Let me explain how fun it could be for people of all ages. On nice, warm days, I would find a park. Most cities and towns have one or more. I would sit on a bench and watch the children play, a man with a briefcase looking at his papers, planning his day. A woman with a shopping bag hurrying by. Lovers sitting on a bench talking and holding hands.

One of the homeless lying on a park bench sound asleep. The old person feeding the birds and squirrels. A person looking at a statue, even a lady smelling the flowers in her hand. Then there is a man browsing the newspaper, catching up on the latest news.

On warm spring and summer days I would find my favorite spot where I could observe the ocean and vessels. Look to find a ballpark to watch the kids play. As much as I would like watching the game, it's more fun watching the fans.

Then, as the weather turns colder, I would visit the library, a museum, an art gallery or take in a movie. During my daily routine, I would go shopping or browsing in the stores. I enjoy watching the customers shopping for things as much as the clerks waiting on them. Other options: if court is in session, go and watch the legal process. I would visit a different church on a Sunday and watch the service and congregation.

I would attend concerts and plays and not only watch the event, but glance at the audience. On good days, I would spend time strolling the streets and smiling with a greeeting and hello.

And with all of this time people-watching, I would make time trying to watch a TV program which I do not like with my wife or a knitting project which I do not care about. I am thankful that I have my own room to spend time reading and watching TV, the game and commercials. However, I realize people-watching isn't for everyone, especially those of you who do not like people. So some day in the near future, if you're out and about, and you see someone glancing at you, it could be me -- just watching and getting ready for my new career as a professional people-watcher.

***

Delivery men

During the '40s, home deliveries were common. I remember, as a boy at home, certain days you could count on deliveries. The milkman of Harjula's Dairy made an every-morning stop, except on Sundays. Whole milk right from the cow was what you got in glass quart bottles. The cream from the quart was always on the top part of the bottle. My mother used to make butter from the cream. Then we used to leave a note in an empty bottle when we wanted buttermilk.

Two days per week, the Cushman Bakery delivery service was available with bread and pastry products. Cushman donuts were among my favorites. Jesse Sleeper and Gerald Grant, the Cushman delivery men I remember, always looked forward to delivering in the morning at my home, because my mother would be in the process of cooking dinner and always gave each man a sample of what she was cooking. On cold winter mornings, a shot of Albanian liqueur was common to all visitors.

Then, about once a week, delivery men selling fresh fish and seafood and eggs would come knocking on our door. In the summer months, Don King, our iceman, would deliver ice to our home on a weekly basis.

One day I remember Virgie Studley knocked on our door selling blankets on the installment plan. I remember my mother bought two large rose pattern cotton blankets for a dollar down and a dollar per week until paid. Fifty years later, my sister and I each have one of those blankets.

Delivery men would also include insurance salesmen, stopping by each month to collect money on our family insurance needs. Every once in a while, a man selling pots and pans would make a visit.

During the summer months a little man with a hand organ and a live monkey would travel up and down the streets of Rockland. He would stop in front of your home and play a tune, hoping he could get a coin in a tin cup that the monkey was holding. My mother would give a dime and I would run up and place it in the tin cup. The little man would thank us and proceed down the street playing another song and stop at the next house. I guess we can call him a delivery man delivering music.

The home delivery era came to an end in the '50s. What you got at home, you now had to go to a store for. They say we live in a world of marketing cycles. Excuse me, there's a knock at the door.

***

John Brown at Economy's Fruit

In the fall of 1947, family friend and part-time employee John Brown started to work at Economy's Fruit full-time. He had been employed at Eastern Distributors for many years as a beverage delivery driver and decided at age 50 that a less strenuous job would be better for his health. I had known John for many years and always was very fond of his friendlya nd humorous personality. The seven years that I was at Economy's Fruit working with John Brown became a real life learning adventure.

John had never married and I guess he saw me as a grandson. He became my mentor through those years and out relationship continued for many years until his death in the early '80s. He followed my career very closely, and during my years with radio station WRKD, we would have regular contact and an occasional lunch.

When I was a successful broadcaster, John would always smile at me and say it was hard to believe that a little young snotty kid behind the soda fountain at Economy's Fruit turned out to become what I was. And I would always smile backa t him adn shake his hand and would say, "Without your help and friendship, I wouldn't have become a radio man," which was what he would call me.

Let's go back to the early days of my association with John Brown at Economy's Fruit. It seems John knew everyone in Rockland. And he called our customers "Mrs." or "Mr." and reminded me to do the same. He taught me to always smile and the customer was always right. There were lessons like how to add and subtract in my mind. Wear a clean shirt under my apron.

And lessons in marketing. For example, we had a fruit stand in front of the store during spring and summer and we would feature Washington state apples. One job he gave me was to polish the apples before we would put them on the fruit stand. As I was polishing, he would look over my shoulder to make sure I was doing a good job. I made a comment to him that I thought it was a waste of time.

He immediately grabbed an apple from my hand and said, "Waste of time! Let's play a game. We will put two boxes of apples on the fruit stand. One box will be the polished ones and th eother box will be the appples unpolished and today we will watch which apples the customers will buy."

Well, you know which apples sold. All the polished ones.

Then there was the taste test. John would remind me, when the customers would inquire about the fruit, I was to say with a smile ... if it was a grapefruit or melon, "Just great. I had one for breakfast." If it was grapes or cherries, I would pick a couple and give them to the customer and say, "Here, taste for yourself."

Other lessons included how to hustle and give the customers more than they ask for. If it was a half-pound, give them a pound. If it was six eggs, give them a dozen. John would say 70 percent of the time, the customer would take the larger quantity.

And there were "lessons in life," as he would call them. I didn't realize it at the time, I had a full-time teacher. I got bored in high school and college, because many of the subjects I was learning I already knew.

And there were times for laughs and jokes he would play on me, like hiding my bicycle behind the store. The best joke he played on me, though I didn't think it was funny at the time, was this: There was a chewing tobacco called "Apple." I asked John why it was called "Apple." He said it had an apple flavor. Well, I had to find out for myself. When he wasn't looking, I grabbed a square of Apple chewing tobacco, opened it and bit off a piece.

John came up to me in the process, and I said it didn't taste like apple. With a smile, he said, "Keep on chewing and it will." Oh, did I get sick and have to vomit! It was the only time in my life that I tried chewing tobacco and I was only 12 or 13 at the time.

As I grew older I was always, "Pal" to him. And our relationship grew stronger. After I graduated from Husson College, one day John inquired what I thought about college and the education I received. I looked at him with a grin, and said, "Not as good as the seven years I spent wiht you at Economy's Fruit."

With a hug, he said, "You had a good teacher."

I have never forgotten those words.

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