Popcorn Lady
Off the Wall, May 1
, 2014

As long back as I can remember, I got into a habit of calling people by what they were wearing, selling or place of residence. Recently, I was reminded of my past when a sales person at the Indoor Vendor’s Market at the Cooperstown Event Center related her past.

“When I got into selling popcorn,” she said, “I did so by going door to door. People would run up to me and call out, “Popcorn Lady, Popcorn Lady, do you have any caramel popcorn today?” Since then, her business has boomed and she sells out of a mall in Uniontown as well as renting a table in Derry Township. With the help of her sister, the Popcorn Lady continues to bag and sell her goods which are in demand wherever she goes.

I’m sure if we all made a list, we could come up with a number of people who we describe with the title of anything but their real names.

The next one who pops into my mind is ‘The Schwan man.’ Even when he called to announce his coming and that he would arrive at a particular time, Brian would state, “Hi Paul, this is the Schwan man calling.” Right away, I would respond, “Oh hi Brian,” and confirm the fact that I would be here to greet him out of my office door at a particular time.

Back in my growing up years while living in the South Hills of Pittsburgh, I recall my father taking the car down to the Gulf gas station to fill up the gas tank. Directly above and off to the right side of the station was a housing development. Even though my memory is a little sketchy, I recall him driving up a particular road whereby we viewed a house made of cardboard boxes. In it lived a woman who we called, ‘Old Lady Covers.’ Every once in a while, she would come out and we were drawn to her apparel. Instead of being in the type of dress women wore back in the 50’s, she was draped in “throws” of material similar to wearing crimson-colored curtains. One could certainly see she was a woman of poverty. But we didn’t go up to see her, in particular, but we were attracted to her housing structure that was so different than anyone else’s.

Many times in the past, I would inquire about my son’s friends. My questioning would possibly go like this – “Hey Arron, how is Bolivar doing these days.” Sometimes there would be other references to hometowns. For some reason, I could come up with their residences faster than thinking of their names. I happen to believe association plays into that. I heard one time that Andrew Carnegie used that act of relationship to establish something with something else or something with someone. Thus, I think I must have given this theory a try way back in my earlier years and it stuck.

Virtually speaking, particularly retailers such as I used to be, always identified products with people. To this day, I don’t think I ever knew the name of ‘The Pepsi Man,’ ‘Bottled Water Man’ or ‘The Fed-Ex Man.’ It was different with the fellows who delivered fishing goods to my shop. I knew each one of their names then. I couldn’t tell you the names of most now, except Digger. We connected as we talked together a lot.

I’ve gone through a slew of mailmen over the years. The one I remember most is the last one who recently retired – ‘Smokey.’ That was his nickname. How he got that I’ll never know. But that is what the whole community called him and I was no different. Thinking back, if I would have had all my nuts and bolts together, I should have asked him what his real name was, even though I know I still would have called out, “Here comes the Smoke!” He had a certain personality of being everybody’s friend. That’s not to say the other carriers aren’t great people. The only problem that I can see is that there are so many who deliver to my residence, and they are in such a hurry, I never think of asking them their names. The problem is would I remember them?

Maybe I should turn back to Carnegie’s theory of association. After all, people linked popcorn to ‘The Popcorn Lady,’ and ‘Pee Vee’ to my initials, maybe there’s hope yet!

- Paul J. Volkmann
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