The Catskills’ Peddlers Brought Wares and Excitement

14 Dec

In the 1950s and 60s, when I was a child, weekdays in the bungalow colony were fun, but somewhat routine. Yes we played, we swam, we fished. We enjoyed being outside. But we were basically confined to an area whose boundaries were determined by how far we could walk.

In those days, most families only had one car, and that car was with the Dad, who had driven back to the City for the week. So during the week, we stayed put.

We were unable to go far to shop, and definitely could not carry too much back with us. A walk into town, Kauneonga Lake, to Vassmers, Newman’s or Sylvia’s S & G were the most we could muster. We could not go out for meals, except for the Chinese restaurant that was across the street or sometimes walk into town for ice cream at Newman’s. Those were our choices, until the late 60s early 70s when my grandparents were up and we had my grandfather’s car to use during the week.

The big excitement during the week, before we had a car, was when the peddler arrived with a station wagon filled with items for sale drove up the driveway. Some peddlers specialized in one item, like purses or linens; others carried a variety of many items.

I loved the arrival of a peddler car. Everyone would stop what they were doing and walk over to the car, where the peddler had already opened up the truck and started spreading things out: clothing, and linens, toys and dolls. It was a wonderful barrage of color and merchandise.

The moms would quickly pick through the items they needed. Sometimes we got clothing, because it seemed in the summer we were always growing, especially my brother. His jeans always seemed to shrink during the summer. But in reality he was just getting taller and taller. My Mom used to tell him that he would bankrupt the family because she had to buy so many jeans. But it was okay, I actually wore his hand me down pants then.

I remember the ‘muumuu’ dresses that the Moms wore during the week. The peddler often had a wonderful selection of these brightly colored, easy to wear dresses. My Mom got one that she loved. It had a multi-colored stripe like pattern. And along the edge was a white fringe. Once she got a ‘muumuu’ that she stopped wearing very soon after purchasing. It made her look pregnant. And with three small children, she definitely did not want that mistake to be made.

I still remember the day when we were shopping and someone she knew asked if she was expecting. I thought my Mom would collapse in the store. When we got home, she immediately changed. I never saw her wear that dress again.

My favorite memory concerns a doll. My Mom and Grandma promised me a new doll. I do not remember why. I must have either been very well behaved that week, or my brother destroyed my doll. In any case, I saw this lovely nurse doll. She had a beautiful white uniform, with warm brown skin. I loved her.

My Mom, my Grandmas and the peddler tried to talk me out of wanting that particular doll. But I would not back down. I loved the warm color of the doll. I wanted only that doll. And a promise is a promise. So they purchased the nurse doll for me. It was not until years later that I was told the doll was African American. At that age, to me, a doll was a doll.

Getting fresh food was also an important issue. I vaguely remember that we had milk and cheese delivered directly to the colony. But fresh fruits, vegetables and eggs were another story. Everyone helped each other. There was always at least one dad up during the week. And when he and his wife went shopping, they often had small orders from many families.

We also had trips to farms where we would go out into the fields and pick the fresh tomatoes, corn, string beans, peas and other vegetables. You paid by the weight. I loved to go. There was one up on Hurd Road and even further up on West Shore Road. There was also food sold at farm stands. One in White Lake on 17B was great for fresh corn and other vegetables. It was my Dad’s favorite stand.

When I think of my Dad, I always think of eggs! My grandfather was a retired baker, who continued to bake. So he needed lots of eggs. The Goldstein’s had a chicken/egg farm on West Shore Road near Happy Avenue. They were good friends of my grandparents, and they sold my Grandpa eggs wholesale. My Dad was in charge of getting the dozens of eggs that Grandpa needed. Over the years, others at the bungalow colony started asking for eggs. My Dad started taking orders and buying crates of eggs filled with large trays holding two and half dozen eggs per tray. He always took one of us to go with him. It was a treat!

Shopping in the Catskills was much more fun than shopping in Jersey. A grocery store had nothing on going directly to the farm. A clothing store was fun, but not the same a rummaging through the trunk of a station wagon. I still get a thrill when I see an old fashion station wagon! The Catskills’ peddlers brought wares and excitement to the bungalow colonies!

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