Country people looked forward to company, at least when they were not too busy to spare the time. Visitors were a welcome source of news and social contact. Other than family members, who might pop in at any reasonable hour, they did not see many regular visitors.
Of course, the mail man came by every day except Sundays and holidays, of which there were fewer back then. Since my parents subscribed to The Savannah Morning News, the mail carrier stopped at our box every day and could be counted on for a friendly wave and smile if we were in sight when he arrived. We knew him. Mr. Rufus Hall ran Route 2, Lyons, for decades. If Momma needed postal stamps, she met him at the box and bought them from him.
He never stopped longer than necessary because he had many miles to go over unpaved roads known for slick clay spots when wet, then dust, “wash boards” and deeply rutted “sand beds” when dry. Still, you could almost set your watch by the time of his arrival.
The ice man came every week. Before “the REA” brought electricity to rural areas and electric refrigerators could be afforded, ice boxes served to refrigerate food and preserve ice for the nectar of life, iced tea. As best I can remember, the upper compartment accommodated a 25-pound block of ice, cooling food in the lower compartment and draining melting water to a pan underneath. Special occasions called for additional blocks of ice swaddled in old quilts or tobacco sheets and kept in the house until used, preferably for making hand-churned ice cream. I marveled at the skill of the ice men using ice picks to separate the requested blocks of ice from large blocks in their trucks. While skilled and cordial, they did not tarry long either.
The Watkins man was a regular but infrequent visitor, probably because selling Watkins products was a secondary enterprise tacked on to farming. If they had money to spare, folks welcomed him. He offered things for cooking, like vanilla and lemon flavorings, pepper and other spices. He also sold Watkins lineament, good for various aches and pains in man and beast. As a salesman, he needed to stay around longer and was welcome.
Mr. Sutton from Vidalia was a unique visitor. He was a salesman specializing in home appliances. He worked for a hardware store — no doubt on commission — calling on potential customers across several counties. As the Great Depression waned, he sold battery-powered radios and ice boxes, delivering them to homes and demonstrating their operation. I got to know him because he came to our house to hunt quail with my father as well as deliver batteries for the big console-sized radio.
Rural electrification was a bonanza for Mr. Sutton. Refrigerators, everyone wanted one. Plenty of ice for tea. No more sour milk when hot weather melted the ice in the ice box too soon. He sold Frigidaires, so many of them that everyone referred to refrigerators a “frigidairs” no matter what the brand name on them might be.
Age and technology finally took Mr. Sutton off the road. He could sell television sets but managing the long pipes and antennae necessary for reception out in the country was too much for him. Those who enjoyed his visits missed him.
Roger G. Branch Sr. is professor emeritus of sociology at Georgia Southern University and is a retired pastor.