The popularity of American Pickers on TV reminded me of the “rag pickers” of the 1930-40s era in Cincinnati. There was the occasional horse-drawn cart that rumbled through the streets of our small working-class East End neighborhood with a picker shouting in a sing-song style, “Any rags or old iron”. They were the pickers looking to buy; in our neighborhood we also had a picker who wanted to sell. On hot summer afternoons, a big grey 1930s Packard would turn from Eastern Avenue and make its way down the slope on Gotham Place toward the river bank.
A tall older man with a day’s growth of beard would maneuver the car to a clear spot in the large area outside our little red brick house and set up shop. The car doors would be opened and from every house on the narrow street women and children would hurry out the door. Mothers would call out, “The Ragman is here” and everybody would gather around the car to see what treasures might be available that day.
I never learned what the man’s real name was, but he made his rounds of the better homes in Hyde Park, Indian Hill, Mt. Lookout, Mt. Washington, etc., to pick up castoffs which he sold at very low prices on his various stops throughout the East End. Customers would pick up an item and ask, “How much?” The Ragman would think a second or two and give a reasonable price which we could take or leave. There was a constant stream of questions and answers going back and forth between customer and seller.
There was something for everybody – pots and pans, dishes, glassware, clothes, toys, and my favorite – movie magazines. For a nickel I could buy 3 or 4 slightly outdated publications and read all about Jeanne Crain, Dana Andrews, Lon McAllister and all the other “stars of the silver screen”. There might also be an occasional Seventeen magazine which was interesting for a pre-teenager to read to get news of the latest styles of clothes and tips on dating.
My mother tended to pick up old pots and pans which could be made new again with her addition of little round metal pieces that she always had on hand to patch worn-out utensils. My little sister might buy a small doll or toy. One year she bought a doll’s china tea set with a teapot and creamer that had pouring spouts shaped like elephants’ trunks. I had been irritable with her when I came home from school that day and Mother said, “Oh, be patient with her. She worked all afternoon cleaning up a special gift for your birthday.” It truly was a special gift – I wish I still had it.
These were the early to mid-1940s World War II days before television and shopping malls. It was a wonderful treat to be able to do some shopping almost in our front yard on the banks of the Ohio River on a clear blue summer day.
Is it any wonder that my favorite stores now are antique malls and thrift shops?
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