Extra Money by
(36 Stories)

Prompted By Door-to-Door Sales

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I do remember Avon calling and my hoarding those tiny lipstick samples, and I remember the Fuller Brush Man in our living room, but no real stories spring to mind about either of them. I did, however, have a stint as a door-to-door salesperson myself around that same time, in the 50s, when my parents agreed to let me answer an ad on the back of a magazine to sell greeting cards and wrapping paper. 

I also have a few leftover Valentine's cards. Now that I look at them, they seem a tad racy for a kid to be selling...maybe they somehow got mixed in with the others.

The inventory arrived, along with a small cardboard box that folded into a briefcase with a handle. I could barely wait to hit the sidewalk, made a few sales, but ultimately ran out of steam once I ran out of neighbors that knew me and ordered just to be neighborly. I did make a little cash, and while this may have sparked my lifelong entrepreneurial spirit, it turns out I just wasn’t very good at sales. Most of the inventory ended up in a bottom dresser drawer where my mom kept it, throughout my childhood, along with some all-purpose gifts — handkerchiefs, a scarf, a lacquered Japanese bowl, a plastic sliding puzzle, a folding coin purse, a set of playing cards, off-brand perfume, a folding fan with a red tassel, and coasters — should the sudden need arise. She did eventually use up the wrapping paper, but believe it or not, I still have some of those cards, and of course now they’re “quaint” at best. And most of them are get well cards…because who sent get well cards anyway? 

I also have a few leftover Valentine’s cards. Now that I look at them, they seem a tad racy for a kid to be selling…maybe they somehow got mixed in with the others.

I’ve gotta give those door-to-door salespeople credit. There’s an art to selling, and I’ve never mastered it. In the early 1990s, I launched my own small handmade greeting card company. I wasn’t bad at coming up with designs, but selling them was another matter so I hired my daughter to go out and drum up business. Of course I had to show her the ropes so off we went to a cute little antique curios shop that I thought, with a little imagination, could be a good fit. We walked in with our sample case — this was no cardboard box but rather a vintage wicker briefcase interwoven with ribbon befitting the style of my cards — browsed a bit, and then I asked to speak to the manager or owner.

“I’m the manager,” said the manager.

“Hi! I’m Barbara, and this is my daughter, Erin. We make these beautiful greeting cards that I think would be a perfect fit for your shop — we’d love to show them to you…” and I begin to open my case.

“I’m sorry, we’re not really interested in selling greeting cards here.”

“Okay, well thank you, have a nice day,” and I turned on my heel and walked out, my daughter trailing behind me. As soon as we hit the sidewalk:

“Mom, that was pathetic! I could have done so much better!”

“Well, then, you do it next time.” And that she did. 

Profile photo of Barbara Buckles Barbara Buckles
Artist, writer, storyteller, spy. Okay, not a spy…I was just going for the rhythm.

I call myself “an inveterate dabbler.” (And my husband calls me “an invertebrate babbler.”) I just love to create one way or another. My latest passion is telling true stories live, on stage. Because it scares the hell out of me.

As a memoirist, I focus on the undercurrents. Drawing from memory, diaries, notes, letters and photographs, I never ever lie, but I do claim creative license when fleshing out actual events in order to enhance the literary quality, i.e., what I might have been wearing, what might have been on the table, what season it might have been. By virtue of its genre, memoir also adds a patina of introspection and insight that most probably did not exist in real time.

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Characterizations: funny, well written


  1. Marian says:

    You were brave to try the door-to-door route, Barb, and I love those vintage cards. Like you, I lack that innate sales ability, but I’m glad that Erin seems to have it. Hope you had a decent business out of her efforts.

    • Thanks, Marian…and yes, it was a decent little business for a time. Turns out Erin didn’t really enjoy pounding the pavement to drum up sales, but I was lucky enough to get picked up by a wonderful sales rep. Unluckily, though, not long after launching the business my then husband became ill and I shut down the business to care for him.

      We make plans and God laughs, right?

  2. Suzy says:

    Great story, Barb! I love hearing about your entrepreneurial spirit as a child – is that the actual ad that you answered, or just a reasonable facsimile? We had to participate in fundraisers in elementary school, hitting up the neighbors to buy tickets to card parties or other things they didn’t want, so I wouldn’t have been interested in that ad. Funny that you still have some of the inventory.

    You ended the story with a teaser. Now I want to know about how Erin did the next time, when she was so much better. Is that another story? Or a postscript to this one? Don’t leave me hanging!

    • Haha, I’m almost surprised that I don’t have the actual ad considering how much stuff I DO have from that era, but It is a reasonable facsimile.

      For the postscript to this story, please see my answer to Marian. Of course there’s a lot more to it, and some of it will undoubtedly make it here to Retrospect sooner or later. Hang in there, kiddo!

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    Babs, as you point out, easier said than done. I love that you tried when you a young girl and your mother had a drawer full of little curios, in case an impromptu gift might be needed (I confess, I keep boxed candy around at Christmas time for just the same reason – in case my kids are home, get invited to go to some party and haven’t thought to buy a hostess gift).

    Your home made cards are truly lovely; works of art. I give you a lot of credit for then trying to find an outlet for selling them. I also love that your daughter thought she could (and evidently DID) do better. Thanks for your take on this prompt. Always so interesting.

    • Thanks so much, Betsy! I did enjoy some success with the cards, and of course one thing leads to another and another and so on. As I always say, no regrets, because nothing is wasted.

      I loved my mom’s gift drawer and have to admit I raided it from time to time. I’ve always thought it would be great to have one but never quite got around to it. Besides, we have a See’s Candy nearby 🙂

  4. Laurie Levy says:

    Your cards look beautiful, Barb. I would have bought them. Like you, I can’t sell anything. I didn’t get that gene from my mother. Once, I had a job selling subscriptions over the phone for the Chicago Tribune. As son as the manager left the office, I stopped calling. I hated bothering people and being hung up on. Needless to say, I did not earn any commissions.

  5. Not a bad philosophy!
    And what an enviable mother-daughter relationship, BB & Erin!

  6. I totally relate as to not being a sales person- Its way too intimidating for me. Its funny but when my kids show me up, it makes me proud! Amazing you still have cards from then!

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