Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Selling the Broom



Some years ago, John was talking with a local store owner -- a man who also owned a great deal of property in the little community around the store. The store had belonged to his daddy before him, the man said, and it was due to his daddy's good business sense that the family was so well off.

And he did it all by selling a broom.

It was during the Depression, when it was common practice for a farmer to buy on credit and settle up, as best he could, when the crops were sold. Folks would come in to the store and make their few purchases -- salt, baking powder, coffee, maybe some wheat flour -- and the storekeeper would total them up and put the total in his books.

And there was always a charge for a broom.

This was the scam. The enterprising storekeeper kept a broom leaning up against the counter. He always added it into the total. Usually the shopper just signed the tab or made his mark without noticing the extra sum on the ticket. On the rare occasion that it was noticed, the shopkeeper merely said, "Oh, sorry, I thought you wanted that," and scratched off the charge.

"I don't know how many time Daddy must of sold that broom," the son told John, chuckling at the memory. "But I'll tell you one thing -- when he died, we found a shoebox stuffed full of deeds."

Because, of course, when the farmer's crop failed, as they sometime did, the next step was to offer his farm as security against the ever-growing debt he had to the village store-keeper.

I wonder how many brooms it took to bankrupt a farmer?

And I wonder how the son could think it was a funny story.




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19 comments:

Reader Wil said...

What a delightful story! I can imagine what the store looked like. Something like the one in Walnut Grove.
Have a great and prolific writing year Vicki!

Pat in east TN said...

Interesting story Vicki ... I'd never heard of anything like that before. Kind of sad too, especially about the box full of deeds.

Vicki Lane said...

The store was still going thirty years ago when we first moved here, Wil, though Daddy had passed on. Very typical country store with a big stove old guys sat around in the winter.

Pat, I was reminded of this story when listening to Fresh Air yesterday. The guest was talking about all sorts of things to beware when buying a car-- all the little charges that would get tacked on after you'd agreed on a price.

Made me wonder how often I've 'bought a broom' by not paying better attention. Some you can't avoid, like buying chicken breasts and paying by the pound for the moisture soaked pad in the package. I'm sure that Tyson or whoever makes millions from selling water at chicken prices.

Oh, dear -- I'm just being cranky. Woke up to lots more snow and bitter cold forecast for the rest of the week.

Reader Wil said...

For me looking back, has been bitter sweet too. specially when I browse through my scrapbooks of my three children.

willow said...

My sister bought a 99 cent doily once for $99 and didn't even notice until weeks. I always try to check my receipts. A few years ago, I was charged $50 for a bunch of bananas, but luckily I caught it before I left the store.

Martin H. said...

Well Vicki, didn't someone once say that money is the root of all.... Maybe not in every case, but more often than we'd like.

Getting ripped off at any time is galling, and most of us wonder how these people can live with themselves, but the bottom line is, they just can. Sad, isn't it?

Merisi said...

I think he was kidding - I am of country stock and, believe me, country folks are not that stupid! I remember that little library of small quaderni that the shop owner kept behind the register. Everybody scrutinized it after something was added. I can't imagine even one ghost purchase slipping through.

Vicki Lane said...

I resolve to do better about checking receipts, Willow -- I'm usually in such a hurry to get done that I don't always.

You know, Martin, I think there's a sheep and wolf mentality that some people have -- they are the wolves and the sheep are meant to be prey.

Merisi -- I would like to believe that it was a joke and I know that most country people are very smart and careful with their money.

It may be, however, that this shopkeeper was trusted and so they grew careless . . . It is a fact that he ended up with a lot of property due to foreclosures.

Miss_Yves said...

Because of a headache, I'llcome and read later ...
Your titles are full of mystery , and your photos are beautiful .
I like nursery Rhymes !

Star said...

That's a very interesting story Vicki. I thought it was going to go along the lines of 'it is very unlucky to sell your broom....' I would never, ever sell mine, but then mine is a very special broom!
Blessings, Star

Vicki Lane said...

I'm quite fond of my broom too, Star. I thought it made a handsome picture. ;-)

Victoria said...

That was my thought, too: How could the son think it was funny? How sad that he has no empathy or compassion for the people who lost their land and homes due to his father's greed. I sure wouldn't want to have to pay that shopkeeper's Karma debt.

You said you're cranky because of all the snow...I'm cranky because we don't have any! Tell it to come out West, where it's needed!

Carol@ Writers Porch/ Book House said...

How sad that this man would do this to his loyal customers and given the hard times of those days, even sadder. I can't believe the son thought is was funny either. I would have been ashamed to tell it myself.

Tammy said...

Pretty sad... I try and go the 'extra mile' in my business dealings, but I'm not sure anyone notices. However it makes me feel better at the end of the day. I expect the same of other people too, and am sometimes shocked at how greedy and dishonest some people can be. I mean, really! How that fella could live with himself and his son to be proud enough of it to laugh at the story. Cranky here too. Bitter temps and more snow on the way. I think if we can make it through Friday the worst of the cold will be over...for awhile anyway.
Take care, stay warm
Tammy

Vicki Lane said...

I really think the answer is, as I told Martin earlier, the wolf and sheep mentality.

And I agree with you, Carol -- I don't believe I'd have told that.

tipper said...

Maybe I'm in an ill mood this morning-but that story makes my blood boil!! I hope it's not true-but if it is-it makes me mad even though it would have been so long ago. I guess I identify too strongly with the struggling farmer never making enough to get ahead-and then being taken advantage of on top of that.

Vicki Lane said...

Me too, Tipper -- but Daddy and son are both long gone now so we can't give them a piece of our mind.

Vagabonde said...

I just read your story and had to read it twice because at first I did not understand that the storekeeper was cheating his customers. That’s pretty low. Once in Lisbon, Portugal, my husband and I had dinner in a central restaurant. I had heard that some restaurants are not very honest in tourist areas. An expensive bottle of wine had been added to our bill – we drunk water. I called the waiter and at first he argued with me that we had ordered wine. He finally took it off saying that it was a joke. I was so made I told the few tourists around us to check their bill twice. For me, this is as bad as stealing.

Vicki Lane said...

Low, indeed -- re wine --it's the sheep and wolf thing. "Rich" tourists are there to be taken advantage of -- at least that's what some think.