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"Remember the Can-opener!" from Family Circle

by Ellis Parker Butler
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from Family Circle
Remember the Can-opener!
by Ellis Parker Butler

Mrs. Miggs leaned her plump arms on the side fence and conversed with Mrs. Diffus next door.

"You didn't?" she said. "Well, neither did I. I knew he was a peddler of some kind as soon as I went to the door. Well, my lands, what would a strange man be coming to my door for if he wasn't a peddler, I'd like to know? The minute I set eyes on him I said to myself, 'That's a peddler, Emma Miggs -- remember the can-opener!' So I said, 'No! No, sir! You can't sell me anything -- I don't buy anything at the door -- it's no use talking -- you'd be wasting your time.'"

'Now,' went on the young man enthusiastically, 'I am permitted by the Grand Universe Family Home Supply Company Incorporated to make you a present of this Self-basting Four-speed Roaster, absolutely free'

"I saw him out of my window," said Mrs. Diffus. "He was about half an hour, wasn't he?"

"Oh, well, the poor fellow!" said Mrs. Miggs. "He did look so hurt when I shouted 'No!' at him that I didn't have the heart to shut him right up. When I saw it was just magazines he was selling, I felt safe, because what would I want with any more magazines? I let him talk, but I said to him, 'No, I do not want any. I've sent four young fellows through college this summer, buying their magazines, and not another one!'"

"What I said," said Mrs. Diffus with an air of probity, "was 'Look there, young man -- you see those four youngsters in the yard there? There are four of my own I'll have to put through college, and that'll about do me in the college line. I've taken four magazines from you men this year, and I'm that busy I don't have a chance to read one of them!'"

"Does that egg-beater you got from the fellow a time ago work all right?" asked Mrs. Miggs.

"No, it don't," said Mrs. Diffus grimly. "It don't work at all. That egg-beater is a fraud if ever there was one. You remember that thing at the side that went down and across that was why he called it the double-action egg-beater?"

"Well, I don't know that I do, Mrs. Diffus," said Mrs. Miggs. "I'd ought to, seeing how insistent he was, but I was just so set not to buy from him after my husband had been so sorry that I'd bought those five pounds of tea with the bedspread free, that I kept saying to myself, 'Remember the can-opener! Remember the can-opener!'"

"Well, anyway," said Mrs. Diffus, "that thing that went down and across came off the first time I used that egg-beater, and nobody could ever fix it because the hole where it went in was twisted-like, and Joe said if you tried to hammer that straight you'd mash all the things that go around, because you couldn't take them off to get at the hole that was twisted."

"I guess you'll have to have a 'Remember the egg-beater!' like my 'Remember the can-opener!'" said Mrs. Miggs with her good-natured laugh. "Not that it does much good. I don't know -- what do you suppose is the matter with us, Mrs. Diffus, letting all the peddlers talk us into buying things from them?"

"I don't know," said Mrs. Diffus with gloom. "If I was like you I'd say it was because I was just too good-natured to refuse, what with them keeping at one the way they do. But I ain't. I'm on the sour side, and I know it. It's --"

She stroked her thin cheek and shook her head. The mystery was too deep for her. There she would be, positively resolved never to buy another thing from any peddler or canvasser, and she would go to the door and presently all her resolutions were nothing. As the peddler talked, she would lose all contact with reality, she would not remember that dollars and cents were hard to get, she would only know that she must buy -- and buy she would. It was as if the peddler, merely by talking, threw a rosy haze around her so that she was in a sphere where buying from a peddler was a thing she must do.

Then her husband would come home and the haze was gone and she was ashamed. He was the town dentist and it was her duty to patronize those who patronized him, and not to buy from any fly-by-night who might come along.

The case of Mrs. Miggs was even worse. Her husband was the owner and editor of the Kadona Weekly Courier, and he depended entirely on the local merchants for advertising and for most of his job-press work. He was a kindly man, and he never scolded Mrs. Miggs when she bought from peddlers. In the most gentle way he would say he was sorry, because it was better to buy from the town merchants, but this made Mrs. Miggs feel even worse than if he had scolded her.

The can-opener had been particularly unfortunate be cause Mrs. Miggs already had a good can-opener and she knew quite well that most combination tools, clever as they seem when a peddler explains them, never do work and never are used. They repose in a kitchen table drawer a while, and then they are put on a pantry shelf because they get in odd positions and prevent the table drawer from closing -- or from opening, which is worse -- and by and by they are rusty and are thrown out.

The can-opener that Mrs. Miggs "remembered" as a warning against purchasing from peddlers had sort of a lobster-claw blade for opening cans. Unhappily, the blade had folded up on itself the first time she tried to use it. The stove-lid opener bent flat. This interfered with the corkscrew. Then the fly-swatter attachment broke off, and that rendered the ice-pick doodad null and void.

Mrs. Miggs left Mrs. Diffus and returned to her kitchen. She had a ham boiling and she lifted the lid -- with a lid-lifter she had quilted herself -- and saw that the ham was doing nicely. She wondered if her husband could eat ham tonight, and she hoped he had gone to see Dr. Diffus about his sore tooth. She decided she had time to snatch a short nap, so she went into the front room and stretched herself on the couch. Almost immediately the doorbell rang.

"Oh, dear!" she sighed, and got up.

The young man at the door was beyond all question a peddler. His very second-hand car had every appearance of being a peddler's car.

"Remember the can-opener!" said Mrs. Miggs to herself, and to the young man she said firmly, "No! No, you can't sell me anything. Not a thing. Absolutely."

Not only did the young man look like a peddler and his car like a peddler's car, but he had brought to the porch with him a large metal pan with a cover, and an aluminum two-story something to boil things in. He had also a small case of samples.

"Madam," said the young man in a charitable-sounding tone, "I am not selling this Self-basting Four-speed Roaster or this Scorchless Automatic Double Boiler -- I am giving them away."

"Oh, remember the can-opener, remember the can-opener!" Mrs. Miggs pleaded with herself. "Don't listen to him. Slam the door in his face!" But what she heard herself saying to the young man was, "Is that the Self-basting Four-speed Roaster that ladles up the meat juices automatically?"

"It is, madam," said the young man, lifting off the lid of the roaster to show Mrs. Miggs how the self-baster worked. "Like all truly up to date homemakers, you know this roaster, I see. Now," went on the young man enthusiastically, "I am permitted by the Grand Universe Family Home Supply Company Incorporated to make you a present of this Self-basting Four-speed Roaster, absolutely free and without cost."

"Remember the can-opener," something far back in Mrs. Miggs' consciousness whispered faintly, but she took the lid of the Self-basting Four-speed Roaster in her hands.

"Yes, madam," the young man was saying as he opened his sample case and took out his order book, "with only the purchase of five dollars worth of coffee, tea, extracts, or soap -- and who does not use soap? -- we give this roaster free, delivered here and now. With a ten-dollar purchase we give you both the roaster and the boiler."

"No!" said Mrs. Miggs emphatically. "I won't buy ten dollars worth. I will not! You can't coax me. I'll just take the roaster."

When Mrs. Miggs, still in the rosy glow of a purchaser, carried the coffee and the soap and the vanilla extract to her kitchen after having paid the young man, she saw on her shelves a can of peaches and she gasped, "Oh, my! I didn't remember the can-opener!" Like one coming out of a dream into the stern reality of life, she saw the awfulness of what she had done. She had ignored her husband's pleas that she buy in town, she had broken her resolve never to buy of a peddler again, she had spent the money she was saving to buy a dress, and she had forgotten the lesson of the can-opener. Mrs. Miggs sat down on kitchen chair with the Self-basting Four-speed Roaster in her lap and wept.

Glancing out of the window as she dried her tears, she saw the peddler leaving Mrs. Diffus's porch. And although he was carrying his sample case he was not carrying a roaster or a boiler. Mrs. Miggs saw the peddler drive away, and she went out and stood at the fence and called Mrs. Diffus. When Mrs. Diffus came to her back door in answer to the call, her mouth was a hard line and her face was a scowl.

"You needn't ask me," she snapped. "I got the roaster and I got the boiler and I don't care what my husband says! That's my business. I wanted them and I got them and now you know it and I hope you're satisfied!"

With that she went in and slammed the door, but Mrs. Miggs felt much better. She felt better able to meet her husband when he came home, and when he did come she told him quite openly that she had dealt with a peddler.

"Henry," she said, "I bought from a peddler today. He had a roaster I wanted and I bought five dollars worth of groceries."

"You did?" said Mr. Miggs. "Well --"

"But I didn't buy ten dollars worth to get the boiler, too!" she declared triumphantly. "I just wouldn't. I just said 'No!' I may be an easy mark, Henry, but I'm not as bad as Mrs. Diffus -- she bought all -- she got both."

Mr. Miggs was not angry. He did not ramp and rage. He just hung up his hat and shook his head a little sadly.

"You cost me five dollars then," he said. "I met that peddler at Diffus's office, and Diffus bet me five dollars that his wife is a worse easy mark than you are. So I lose. What are we having for dinner?"

"Ham," said Mrs. Miggs.

But to herself she said, "Remember the can-opener!" And then, "Remember the Self-basting Four-speed Roaster!"



Saturday, October 07 at 1:20:50am USA Central
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