Shopping via Traveling Salesmen

We like our Senior Center fitness class as much for the interesting conversation as for exercise. Tony, in particular, can be counted on for a great story. As a newlywed in North Dakota, he’d worked as a produce manager in a grocery store. When he and Bonnie moved to Everett, Washington, he interviewed for a job with the old Penney’s store. “If you can successfully sell one thing, you can sell anything,” he told the manager. He got the job and soon he was in charge of the men’s and children’s clothing departments.

Tony loved selling suits. On slow days, he would stand on the sidewalk in front of the store and observe the men walking by. When he spied a likely customer, he’d strike up a conversation:

 “Say, got a minute? I have a suit in here that would look wonderful on you. Come on in and take a look.” Before he knew it, the stranger would be standing in front of the mirror in the suit, while Tony mentioned what a perfect color it was for his complexion and busied himself with pins, taking a little in at the sides and shortening the cuffs a bit. “There, now, isn’t that perfect for you?”

The customer would cock his head, admire himself, agree, and before he knew what had hit him, he’d be walking out of the store humming a happy tune, with a new suit under his arm.

Tony’s story reminded someone else about the traveling salesmen who, when we were young, made regular circuits through our neighborhoods, and soon we were off on another topic. Our family lived far from the big city, but still, the Watkins man and the Fuller brush salesman found us. My mom would buy vanilla flavoring or pepper, liniment or special salve from the Watkins man. The Fuller brush man brought us cleaning tools and hairbrushes.

Then there were the salesmen who might pass through only once; persuasive sellers who found a ready audience in the five kids who listened to their spiels.

We all loved to read. When a college student came through selling a fat book called “The Lincoln Library,” and leafed through the thin pages, showing us articles on every imaginable topic, even our parents thought this would be a good substitute for the encyclopedia set we couldn’t afford. And at first we were thrilled, pouring over the articles. But after a while, the tiny print, difficult to read under our kerosene lamps, made it discouraging to use for anything but pressing flowers.

Sometime in the early fifties, another salesman stopped to demonstrate a marvelously easy-to-play instrument he called a “Hawaiian Tremelo.” It looked something like a zither, with strings of varying lengths on one side you chorded with a pick. With the other hand you slid a rolling bar on a mechanical arm up and down a melody string, plucking the notes of a song. It made a whiny, wobbling sound that reminded us of the then-popular music of Hawaii. We clamored to have our own “Hawaiian Tremolo,” and persuaded our parents that we would faithfully practice if they would put out the at-the-time huge price of $30. We did practice…for a while. I, at least, learned to play it. But it didn’t take long to get tired of the tremolo sound, and it, too, went on the shelf.

But the traveling salesman’s item I remember most was the fur coat my father bought my mom. We children were very young then and my parents struggled to make ends meet on Dad’s logger’s earnings. Mom sacrificed a lot to keep us fed and clothed, and I think Dad felt she deserved something nice for herself. The pelts, probably squirrel skins, were glossy variations of brown. The three-quarter length coat itself hung straight from big, 1940s shoulders…not a pretty style, but my mom faithfully wore it on every excursion to town or for every special occasion for two decades. Eventually she cut it up and made a sofa cushion out of the good parts.

Today we can shop at the mall or online. Our choices are limitless. But there was something special about having the store come to us in the person of an old-time traveling salesman.

God and the Carpet Business

The hour Hank and I spend in fitness class three mornings a week speeds by in a rush of laughter and stories. Our leader often remarks that being in that class is as good as a college education.

Our leader, Irene, showing Eileen and Glenn an exercise

Hank getting the ball rolling

    Our friend Tony Bundy’s stories are cheerful, often funny, and always testify to the goodness of God. When he and Bonnie came to Washington from North Dakota as young marrieds, he went to work for Penneys Department Store. He especially loved managing the children’s department, and dreamed about running a children’s store himself.

He began looking for an appropriate building but God shut the doors. Then he took a job with a floor covering firm. After seven years with that firm he got restless and depressed, feeling that the job wasn’t challenging enough. Here’s what he says happened next:

Ray and Carolyn enjoying a joke
“One night I was awakened by a voice. It told me to quit my job. ‘I have other plans for you,’ it said.
“I wasn’t sure whether God was speaking or if it was my own wishful thinking. So I got up, knelt in the living room, and said, ‘God, if this is your voice, I’ll quit my job, but how do I know?’”

Tony went back to bed, fell asleep, and was awakened again by the voice. “Quit your job and I’ll take care of the rest.”

He woke Bonnie and told her. She said, “If you’re sure it’s God, you’d better do it.”

The next morning he told his boss he had to resign. That afternoon, Bonnie telephoned the store with news that the realtor he’d talked to seven years earlier had called, asking if Tony still wanted to go into business. “I’ve got just the building for him.”

The building was perfect. It fronted on the busiest street in town. And it was affordable. Two hours later the Bundys signed a rental agreement, not yet knowing what their business would be.

A few days later they received another call. A sales representative from a reputable carpet company wanted Tony to represent his line of carpet. They arranged to meet in Seattle to discuss the idea.

But when Tony arrived for their appointment, the rep had gone to lunch with someone else. Tony asked God, “What does this mean?” He felt impressed to call another sales representative, a good friend who lived in Renton.

This man immediately answered his phone. “Tony! I was just thinking of calling you. I heard you want to open a store. Come on over and let me show you my lines.”

Tony was excited, knowing that this rep had much more to offer than the one who’d stood him up.

The two spent the afternoon together, choosing displays and samples enough to start a carpet business. Then the friend went through the list, crossing out numbers and writing others. When he handed the total to Tony, it had been reduced to eight percent of the original. The company’s owner came by and asked what was happening. He looked at the list, crossed out the price again, and halved that number.

Just like that, the Bundys were in the carpet business for themselves.

They built a reputation for quality service, which led to opportunities to tell others about God and his awesome power to heal and help. Over the years, they planted several churches and served in others. Their children grew up to carry on their example of selfless service to others.  After 35 years, the Bundys sold their carpet business to their children, but when the kids need him, 75-year-old Tony is still there to help.

Bonnie says,”We saw first hand that God is interested in our lives and will do miracles for us. It changed our lives and strengthened our faith.”

The Bundys, telling their story

Tony and Bonnie are still telling others that God is faithful and good at all times. I don’t know better examples than these two of the connection between obedience and blessing.