Canned Goods 9/14/1943
Oswald Draper, currently operating as the head of the Zeno Fabrics Company, was giving final directions to his dapper young salesman, Gordon Ives.
“Ives, I am sending you to Colonel Burgess of the Reading Airport; try to sell him the idea of our canvas tarpaulins. It’s a tough assignment for more reasons than one.”
“Shoot O.D., I like to crack the tough ones.”
“Well, Bob Sturgis never got to first base while we were the Novum Canvas Company and the Army Ordinance got on to Bert Hollingsworth before he had a chance to close a deal. The fool still carried some of the stationery we used when we called ourselves the Waterproof Fabrics, incorporated in Delaware. That spilled the beans.”
“Depend upon me; I won’t do anything foolish. This concern has changed its name so often that we have now reached the end of the alphabet with Zeno; that won’t be hard to remember.” Draper did not wince; he was hardened to such matters. One does harden after ordinance inspectors reject your shoddy repeatedly and one must seek other trading names to conceal the past.
“Then there is one more point,” cautioned the boss. “Colonel Burgess has a secretary.”
“Whoa there! Ives, no shenanigans in that quarter. She is a WAC, Sergt. Emily Carpenter is her name. She is the incarnation of one of the Vestal Virgins come to life from the ancient Roman temples; the guardians of hearth and the guardians of the state. Sturgis got nothing from her except a cold stare – he never even got into the Colonel’s office. She’s a female Horatius at the Bridge.”
“Leave her to me,” boasted Ives. “I’ll cross the bridge just the same.”
Gordon Ives was packing his bags while his car stood in front of his Baltimore home.
“Where to now, Gordon?” asked his wife.
“Reading, PA. Gotta see a brass hat up there at the airport; snooty sort from what old man Draper tells me.”
“Reading? Mused Mrs. Ives. “The Pennsylvania Dutch country. I hear that there are some fine peach orchards up there and peaches are cheaper in that section. Bring me two baskets when you return.”
“O.K., Honey . . . Honey and Peaches,” and Gordon Ives climbed into his roadster northward bound.
“Hey there Landsmann,” shouted the driver of a car bearing a Maryland License, “where can I buy several baskets of peaches?”
“At Absolom Houck’s place just two miles up the road this side of Bernville yet,” came the information.
HOUCK’S ORCHARDS, a sign pointed to a shed, set off from the road 200 feet. The door was closed but unlocked as Ives put his hand on the door knob.
“Oh! You scared me mister,” almost shrieked a young lady who was down on her knees sorting peaches.
“Sorry, but I had no ideas that a girl would be here along, and such a peach of a girl too,” this with the most urbane flattery.
“You wish to buy peaches?” asked the girl, trying to hide her peach stained hands under a gingham apron. Ives could not be sure whether the red tint in her cheeks was sunburn, make-up or blushing.
“Of course I wish to buy peaches,” he replied.
“Well the yellow ones are $2 a basket and the clingstone are $1.50 take your pick.”
“At that price, I will load the baggage compartment of my car with clingstones; but I will have to come back tomorrow to pick them up. I have a neat trick to pull in this part of the country before I return to Baltimore.”
“A neat trick?” repeated the young lady. “Are you a magician?”
“Ha. That’s a good one! Yes, I am sort of a magician, you might say, I sell people things they don’t need and things that aren’t what they are cracked up to be. That’s magic, not so?
“But that’s not honest,” demurred the girl in the gingham apron.
“Ah. But it’s salesmanship. Now you are selling peaches, I would like to give you some lessons in salesmanship.”
“Me? No, thank you, my uncle’s peaches sell themselves. You see stranger, Uncle Absolom has been selling peaches to our neighbors for 20 years and he doesn’t sell them what they don’t want and his peaches don’t have to be ‘cracked up to be’ what they are not. So you see, Uncle Absolom picks the peaches, puts them into baskets and the people come to get them. That’s our system here in Berks County.” Was he mistaken, or was there a proud toss of the head as she concluded.
“Is your name Houck, too? Asked the stranger in order to prolong the conversation.
“No. Absolom is my mother’s brother.” Such naivete, thought Ives, to be found among these ignorant Pennsylvania Dutchmen. He would see how far he could go.
“Do you live here at the orchards?”
“No. I come here during my vacation periods to help Uncle Absolom.”
“Where do you live?”
“Over near Leisz’s Bridge, but you wouldn’t know where that is. It is in the Reading Airport.”
“Why,” exclaimed the salesman, “I am on my way over there this afternoon. Perhaps I can drive you home.”
“That would save Uncle Absolom a trip in this busy season,” the girl thought aloud. “can you wait until I call him from the orchard to take care of the store and until I change my clothes?”
“Glad to wait,” answered Ives.
A few minutes later the peach girl appeared, nattily attired in the uniform of a WAC.
Ives gulped then stammered “W-what is your name, I forgot to ask it?”
“I haven’t asked you yours either, but mine is Sergt. Emily Carpenter, secretary to Colonel Burgess.”
“And I am the biggest fool in Christendom,” he admitted.
“No you say you are a very clever salesman.”
Did he only suspect that she chuckled.