Friday, June 12, 2009

Father's Day 1972 Revisited, Part 11: Of Brooms and Baptists

It was becoming clear to me now this would not be the easy and quick sale I'd hoped it would be. This seemed confirmed as my gaze drifted from the picture on the wall of the giant Jesus at the U.N. building to the big black Holy Bible atop the buffet keeping company with the family photos. To the woman's question about how my day was going, I observed that it certainly was hot outside today and I sure appreciated the cold lemonade. I didn't want to admit to her this was my first day as a Fuller Brush salesman and that I had yet to make a sale. I think she sensed this though. As I reached down in to my sample bag and brought out a slim catalogue of our latest products, she said, as if making a further comment on the weather, "Do you know that God loves you very much and sent his son Jesus to die on the cross for you?" There followed a moment of awkward silence as she waited for my answer and I tried to think of something to say which wouldn't blow the sale. "Um, yes" I said, "my grandma is a Baptist and I know they told us that at vacation Bible school." I figured this acknowledgment of mine might put this topic to rest and we could get on with discussing our new line of products made especially for the modern kitchen. It was not to be.

She reached over and, before I could draw my hand back from the table, she placed hers on mine. She tried to make eye contact with me but I saw it coming and turned my head as if I had just heard something in the distance which called for my attention. Anything to avoid what I was afraid would come next. She gave my hand a little squeeze and said softly, almost confidentially, as if just between us, "I'm glad you know about Jesus, but do you believe in him? Have you placed your trust in him and asked him to forgive your sins and come to live in your heart?" Another even more awkward silence ensued. I no longer cared about making a sale, I just desperately wanted to extract myself from this embarrassing inquisition as soon as possible and get back to knocking on doors where no one was home. The problem was that this woman had my catalogue under her other hand and the unspoken one-sided agreement seemed to be that, if I would just listen to what she had to say, she was willing to buy something from me afterwards. The odd thing was that her teen-aged daughter had taken a seat at the table with us as if we were going to have a little family discussion. She may have been a mute for all I knew, for she never said a word the whole time. I suspected though that she was praying, with her eyes open, the whole time. I somehow got the impression that I was not the first salesman to fall into the snare of this mother-daughter evangelical tag-team. "Well," I began, "I think Jesus was kind of a revolutionary and said lots of things about love and peace and brotherhood sort of like Woody Guthrie did and the establishment just couldn't take his radical ideas and so they had him killed as a rebel." With this answer I had managed to move things to slightly safer territory. I didn't really mind speculating about Jesus' political troubles in some abstract fashion, but to discuss my sins and how Jesus had died to forgive them was beyond the pale. "The Lord has called us," she said, mercifully letting go of my hand, "to tell everyone the good news of the gospel and promised that his Spirit would help them to see the truth and come to Jesus. I will pray for you that God will lead you to the path of salvation." With that, it seemed she'd done her duty and would soon free me to go on my way. I felt our tension--mine and hers--dissipate somewhat and she asked if I would like some more lemonade. "No, thank you," I said, "I need to be going and so..." She opened the catalogue and pointed to the Easy-Breezy kitchen broom with matching dust pan. After filling out the order form I collected my things and she showed me to the door. I wished her a good day and she in return said, in a sincere tone, "God bless you." Before I turned to go I saw her daughter, still seated at the dining room table, now with her head slightly bowed. I continued up the street in an odd daze of unreality at what had just happened. I'd never forget my first sale as a Fuller Brush man.

This encounter was just one of a number of them I seemed doomed to experience in the next ten months. I would come back to the car where it was parked downtown to find a gospel tract tucked under the wiper. I'd absent-mindedly give the radio dial a spin only to have it stop on a station blaring some preacher. I'd bump into an old acquaintance from high school and they'd start witnessing to me about being "born again." I'd go into a public restroom and there would be a psychedelic sticker saying One Way--Jesus! Mostly these things irritated me, but in tandem with my reading the gospel accounts, they felt "aimed" at me by I knew not whom.

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