“She perceiveth that her merchandise is good:
her candle goeth not out by night.” (Proverbs 31:18)
Last night while watching prime time television, I saw a brief advertisement for Avon, the cosmetics company. Avon’s current corporate theme is “the company for women”. When I was a kid, the Avon salespeople were not known as “Avon women.” Rather, each was called, “The Avon Lady”. I remember Avon telephone commercials from the 1960s which would feature an attractive, smartly dressed woman in her late thirties ringing the doorbell and cheerily announcing, “Avon calling!”
When I was growing up in Canton, Massachusetts, there was an Avon lady that I think just about everybody in town either knew or at least knew of. She looked and acted NOTHING like that Avon lady in the commercials. Our Avon lady must have been at least sixty-five, and probably older. Her hair was very gray, and I don’t think she ever had much of a “hairdo”. It was kind of just there and looked like she’d given it a quick brushing. I wouldn’t call her obese, but she was a bit overweight. She rode a tricycle. Now, it was NOT like a tricycle that children ride. It looked like a typical one speed bicycle that was in the style of a “girls’ bike”. The difference was that it had TWO wheels at the back, positioned almost like giant training wheels, and there was a very large basket on the bike (or I guess more correctly, the “trike”!). Sometimes, the Avon lady’s husband drove her around in a station wagon. That was particularly true when she was making deliveries. But she did most of her general sales calls either on foot, or riding that tricycle.
The Avon lady had a very pronounced speech impediment. My brother, sister, and I could not understand anything she said. Well, that’s not QUITE true. After she rang the doorbell, she would be trying to say, “Avon calling!” and it would come out something like, “aBoaW caw!” That’s the most we could understand. Remember watching Cousin Itt on The Addams Family having conversations with the rest of the family? Itt was just a mass of long hair with glasses and a hat. When Itt spoke, it sounded something like a tape recording sped up at least ten times faster than it was supposed to be. It was a bit high pitched and complete gibberish. Yet, Morticia and Gomez would converse with Itt, apparently understanding everything perfectly. That’s what it was like listening to my mother talk to the Avon lady. The Avon lady’s last name started with “J”. My mother always called her Mrs. (and then the last name). Here, I’m just going to use “Mrs. J”. This is what a typical conversation between my mother and the Avon lady would sound like:
Avon Lady: “Eck rycopment thess node bassos.”
Mom: “Oh, YES, Mrs. J, I think I WILL buy some of those new bath salts!”
Avon Lady: “I law bybo like annew mothorifer.”
Mom: “And, YES, I WILL take some of that new moisturizer.”
Avon Lady: “Achhe ecchve preny fuv bischness fruf dh laze afte grache.”
Mom: “Oh, yes, my sister-in-law told me everybody at the Grange buys from you!”
The conversation would go on for about a half hour...all like that. We just COULDN’T understand how our mother could UNDERSTAND the Avon lady!
One time when he was about nine, my brother Eddie asked Mom why the Avon lady talked like she did.
“OH, she was in a car accident!” my mother quickly replied.
To which Eddie had a instant comeback:
“What did she do, SWALLOW THE STEERING WHEEL?!”
I think the Avon lady started coming around when I was a fourth grader, and I think my mother did business with her almost until my high school graduation. My sister learned that the Avon lady was the grandmother of one of the girls in her high school class.
Yes, we DID get a big chuckle out of the Avon lady and my mother’s conversations. But here’s a interesting thing to ponder: If the Avon lady HAD looked and acted like “The Avon Lady” on television, I don’t think she would have made any impact upon us. Today, I probably wouldn’t have been able to tell you anything about her, and I would probably hardly even remember her. But that old Avon lady with her tricycle and speech defect (who had an amazingly successful Avon business) is somebody I will never forget. She didn’t let her disabilities hinder her. She was cheerful, positive and outgoing. She was also not afraid to just BE who she was! If she felt like riding around on a weird looking tricycle, well she just did it! She could have just sat home feeling sorry for herself. Instead, she got out in the community. She made a lot of friends. She had a profitable business. She touched a lot of lives. And all these years later, when I see Avon products or an Avon advertisement, I think of The Avon Lady!
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