Nameless Visitors



The front of the Fairmount Riding Stable was a hundred foot long porch with many doors. On the far right end there was a machine with a glass globe full of gumballs. Inside was one huge room with an arched ceiling and a dirt floor where fancy people all dressed up rode their horses round and round. It wasn't my kind of place. I'm sorry I went there.

A few days after my visit I climbed the box elder tree in my back yard. The box elder tree has clusters of seeds with little wings on them. I liked to pull them loose and watch them flutter down like tiny helicopters. It soothed me. I was up in the tree feeling guilty because of what happened with the gumball machine at the Fairmount Riding Stable. I found that if I put some cardboard in the coin slot and turned the crank a gumball came out.

Now when my friend George Stein took the popcorn from the popcorn man and handed him a bottle cap, he ran away hopping and skipping, half backwards, laughing all the way. It didn't bother him a bit. Five stolen gumballs had driven me right up this tree. Now what I am trying to say is why should it bother me so much? It's no big deal, right?

That poor old popcorn man would come by once in a while with his horse drawn wagon. It looked like a small yellow freight car with windows. The popcorn was a nickel a bag. It smelled good. We never knew the old man's name. He was just known as the popcorn man.

There were a lot of nameless visitors who came to our house. The mailman, of course, but he wasn't much fun. There was an insurance man who came every few months for the premium and the paperboy who came every day. They were all part of the show.

A Jewish man came by once a year to talk my father into going into business with him. He had several businesses. My dad always said no. So much for my chance to be a rich man's son. I was told you could tell he was Jewish because he kept his hat on in the house.

One day I was picking plums when I disturbed a brown bat that was snoozing while hanging from a branch. He turned his evil face to me and snarled like a mad dog. He had nasty teeth. I thought he might be the devil. I shimmied up my box elder. High up in the tree I gazed nervously at the Fairmount Riding Stable a mile away.

Another nameless visitor was the milkman. He came so early in the morning that I never saw him. Every morning he delivered the milk in the milk chute. This was a small hole in the kitchen wall with a door outside and another door inside. You could see the cream on the milk through the glass bottle. When it was cold the milk would sprout a column of white ice with the cap sitting on top of it. Freezing didn't hurt the milk. It was still good. I liked milk - and apples. I really didn't even like gumballs.

We had a coal furnace to heat the house. The coal man was really fun. He came in his red truck with white letters on it. The coal man was big. He carried heavy metal tubs full of coal and dumped it down a metal slide through a basement window into the coal bin. The loud noise was exciting. The coal man was always covered with black dust but he looked strong and happy. His visits made the day for me.

When coal burns it leaves ashes that look like dirty baked potatoes covered with little holes. Dad would shovel them out of the furnace red hot into the coal man's metal tubs. They made a clinking sound as they cooled so we called them clinkers. Another nameless visitor we called the ash man would come and somberly carry away the clinkers in his dirty black truck. He didn't make as much noise and wasn't as much fun as the coal man.

The iceman was really special. He had a blue truck and wore a blue uniform. Our house had an old-fashioned icebox with brass hinges and handles. Every few days the iceman would bring a fresh block of ice. He carried it with a pincer like set of metal tongs and used a pick to break it up so it would fit in the box. He was big, strong, clean and handsome. My sister had a crush on him. Once I almost made the mistake of telling my sister about the gumballs. That would have been like telling the whole world.

The jewel of the nameless visitors was the ragman. He came down our street occasionally. I think he was a gypsy. His horse was as broken down as his wagon. The whole rig, loaded with junk, contrasted with the neat suburban atmosphere. He called out with his thick accent to advertise for business. I loved to taunt him. He ignored me.

I remember one bright and clear day. His wagon was coming down the street creaking and rattling. The sun was warm and yellow. The horse clopped along. Green grass, yellow dandelions, bright sunlight, even now I see it clearly before me. I can still hear the clip, clop, clop and the call "haraags, haraags." Yellow straw trailed from the wagon. Horse apples hit the street. Sparrows landed and picked at them.

Happily I ran along side trying to harass him. The wagon moved a little faster, slowly pulling ahead. Clop, clop, clop, yellow sunshine, sparrows, "haraags, haraags," he called. "Hot eggs, hot eggs," I shouted back, relishing the mockery.

As time went by I thought less and less about the gumballs. After all, it was nothing, right? Anyway, when up in the box elder dropping seeds all problems eventually dissolved.

But I never went back to the Fairmount Riding Stable. Later it was converted into a factory making Osterizers. I was happy when it closed.

The End


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