Home » General subjects. Excelsior, you Fathead! » JEAN SHEPHERD KID STORIES Selling Seeds 5



It’s getting kind of dark by now and I’m slowing up.  I am no longer wound up like a spring.  I’m getting real slow.  I get down by the woods where the Beegees live.  The Beegees are a large Germanic family.  They all have very wide faces and they have wide-faced dogs named Fang and Claw.  They live in the woods.  They have about nine gigantic girls named Brunhilda.  I knock on the door and a large girl says “Vat do you Vant?”

I say.  “Seeds.  I have seeds.”

“Ve don’t want no seeds.”  Boom!  Pow!

Down the stairs I go, I turn right and by now it’s suppertime. As I come home, my seeds are trailing behind me, leaving a whole long line of little nasturtium seeds behind me.  I can see them shining in the moonlight.

I’m home and I take my seeds and I put them on the dining room table and my mother’s out in the kitchen stirring the red cabbage and my kid brother’s in the john.  Home.  It’s home for supper and stuff and I’m fooling around, I’m very depressed.  I’m failing the World Book people and everything.  We want the World Book for our own classroom.  Every class should have a World Book and here I am lousing up already.  No World Book—we’re going to have a rotten, lousy, terrible, terrible party at Halloween where there’s not gonna be any candy corn, not gonna be any streamers.

Then I begin to worry about the other kids.  Obviously other kids like Jack Robinson and Maurine Robinson are out there selling like mad.  I’m in the living room and my mother’s paying absolutely no attention.  She knows I’ve been out with the seeds.

Finally the supper’s ready, the old man comes out of the basement.  He comes in, sits down.  I’m sitting.

My mother says, “How are the seeds?  Did you sell any seeds?”


Well, I did not realize—never did I realize until that very minute, what kind of a life my old man must have had.  Forever and ever and ever, it turned me away from the whole field of selling.  I could never do it ever again.  And I never realized until that moment what my father’s life must have been like all of his life.  Nothing to do with Willy Loman either.  I remember that always there was on the wall of my old man’s office a big thing called the sales chart.  As a kid I thought it was great, ‘cause they had red ribbons on it.  They had different guys’ names like Zudock, Gertz, Shepherd.  I never realized that those lines were life and death to those poor clowns, and represented fifteen million hours of defeat.

The old man says, “What are you doing, selling seeds?”

I say, “Yeh.”

He says, “Well, how’d you do?”

“Mrs. Bruner’s gonna think it over.”

Mrs. Bruner is going to think it over.  Oh boy!  He knew the Bruners.  Even at that hour we could hear Mr. Bruner starting to yell.  He’s falling up and down the basement stairs.  What he did—in the basement he made stuff out of raisins in between true drunks when he’d go out and buy stuff.  I don’t know how he did it but he made it out of raisins and apricots, which they got from the relief.  So Bruner’s yelling and falling and Mrs. Bruner’s thinking it over whether to buy nasturtiums.  I, as a kid, believed it.

My old man says, “Oh, she’s going to think it over.  Well, how many do you have?  Let’s take a look at these.”  Our family is definitely a non-garden family.  Our family is also a non-dog family.  I come from a long line of dog-kickers, actually.  “What about the seeds?  Let me look at the seeds.”

So I get the seeds from the dining room.  My mother says, “These are very interesting.”  The nasturtium seeds are falling out of the bottom.  She’s looking.  We’re all sitting around with the red cabbage.  She says, “You mean you can grow these flowers?”

On the cover, of course, are these gigantic morning glories that are about three feet across, seventeen different colors and the hollyhocks are thirty feet tall.  Red, purple, green, blue, white.  So she says, “That’s very interesting.  How much are these?”

I say, “Well, they’re ten cents apiece.”  I had about twelve packages.  The total investment was roughly a dollar and a quarter.  My entire stock.  That’s at retail. I don’t know what Miss Shields paid for them.

She says, “Very interesting.”

My old man says, “How do you sell seeds?  What do you tell ‘em?”  This is very definitely a non-seed neighborhood.

I take out the little folder.  “It says everybody wants seeds.”

He says, “Everybody wants seeds?”  Well, my old man works for a milk company.  You would believe that everyone wants milk, wouldn’t you?  Have you ever tried to go out door to door to sell people milk?  More guys prefer beer.  You’d be surprised.  There are more non-milk drinkers, who, if told that everybody wants milk would bust a gut laughing!

So the old man says, “You know, that’s a funny thing.”  He says, “That’s what they tell us at the office: ‘Everybody wants milk.’”  Visions of Mr. Bruner are dancing in his mind, you know, trying to sell Bruner a half a quart of milk.  Ridiculous scene.

So  I say, “Well, everybody wants seeds.”

He says, “I’ll tell you what.  Go get my wallet.”

I get it from the top of the refrigerator.

He says, “How many are there?”

I say, “There are ten or twelve.”

And he gives me a dollar and a quarter and says, “Is this enough, now?”  And he takes the seeds.

He’s got a handful of packages and he throws them like cards across to my mother and says, “Here, you’re always hollering about flowers.  You always want flowers.  You’re always saying I never give you flowers.  Here’s some flowers.  Make your own.  Here.”

[Well, gang, in one short spurt, ol’ Shep has  denigrated (1) selling stuff as a way of making a living; (2) dogs as pets*; and, despite a positive mark showing his dad’s love/compassion in buying little Shep’s seeds, (3) his father exhibiting nastiness toward his wife.]

* Some time later, as he gives doggie roles in two of his video productions, he will apparently come to love his dog Daphne.




1 Comment

  1. Bettylou Steadman says:

    I remember selling seeds from door to door, too, when I was a kid in the 1940s.  I sent for them from an ad I saw in a comic book.  I wasn’t very successful, either.Bettylou Steadman

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