My expensive, modern vacuum cleaner quit working a short time before guests were arriving to celebrate Christmas, 2016. What to do now – no time for repairs; it was just about time to leave for the airport. There is another, old vacuum cleaner in the back of the closet. I should just get it out to see if it still worked. Instead, I ran to the airport without vacuuming at all! This incident reminded me how we got the old vacuum cleaner.
In 1973, Bill (now an Army Captain) and I had just returned to the United States from Camp Stanley, South Korea, arriving at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma so that Bill could attend the Field Artillery Advanced Course. Along with many of his West Point classmates and their families, we were assigned to live on Snow Road in Artillery Village and surrounded by old friends from earlier assignments. It was a great place to be. Until that move, I was a skeptical, new Army wife. In our two years of married life, we have already moved three times. I asked how it was possible to survive when we would just make friends and then must leave them. Would that be our fate forever? It was at Ft. Sill that I learned that the Army is just a large family – we could keep up with those we had left behind but could also make new friends. It was at Ft. Sill that some old friends from earlier assignments started to re-appear again and it was wonderful to see them and renew our friendships. This reminded me of the old Girl Scout adage: “Make new friends but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.” All precious.
Most married students attending the Field Artillery Advanced Course lived in Artillery Village. The single officers lived in many different off-post apartment complexes. At the time, it was easy to get onto Ft. Sill – there was no ID check or manned guard post. Just slow down and then sail through to Snow Road which was close to one of the Main Gates.
It may have been necessary for salesmen to register at the Post Headquarters, but it was very easy for them to contact those living on post. Artillery Village was a convenient place to live during the nine-month course; the men could carpool (refer to George Coan’s Diary of a Carpool) to class and the wives only had to walk next door or down the street to find an old friend or make a new one. Perhaps, like officers attending other branch Advanced Courses (Infantry, Engineer, Armor, etc.), we received many invitations to events from financial planners and other vendors. As 20-somethings, many with young children or newly married, we were the perfect demographic for many of these companies and salesmen. Many of the students had been either in Vietnam, Germany or Korea and were glad to be back in the U.S. and needed furniture, home goods and advice! Some of these presentations included a nice dinner to attract us and some even wanted entrepreneurs/investors to work alongside the salesmen – maybe, they were trying to recruit some of the officers who could leave the Army in a year or two. Bill and I attended several of these presentations, but didn’t make any purchases, though we did listen to the financial planners and retirement experts and met with them personally at our home after the group presentations. Once, we received an invitation to go to a local hotel to meet with vendors that offered us great deals (!) on furniture, pots and pans, fine china and other household goods. They tempted us with claims of unbreakable china (such ugly patterns) and guarantees for lifetime use for some the goods. We often wondered if others went to that spectacle and if anyone purchased. We were a bit proud of ourselves for not falling prey to the high-powered sales pitches – after all, we needed a lot of the items offered for sale!
One day, a knock came on our duplex door. It was a man who wanted to show us his wares – he was a vacuum cleaner salesman. We didn’t have a good vacuum cleaner yet, since we had spent the first years of our marriage out of the country – first in Germany (with different electric current and electric plugs those appliances were left in Germany) and then, in Korea where we lived in a Korean home that came with a maid to take care of all the necessary cleaning. “Sure, why don’t you come in?” The salesman gave his most compelling pitch (“It is a wet and dry vacuum, has a floor polishing attachment, very powerful engine, large capacity cannister, double filtration system” and on and on.) and we were impressed.
It would be a large purchase, but it was one that we thought we might be able to afford – after all, he said it would last a lifetime. What a good investment! But, we needed to think about it.
In a day or two, when the salesman came back for a follow-up visit, he chatted with us. It seems the company headquarters was in St. Louis, Missouri, Bill’s hometown. That made us more comfortable with the idea of that large purchase – still, so expensive…Then, the salesman mentioned that his training was done in St. Louis where he met the President of the company. Bill couldn’t believe his ears. The owner of the company was the father of one of his high school classmates at Southwest High School. In fact, he and a friend spent one summer doing yard work at that very man’s St. Louis County mansion. When he was the lawn-boy that summer, Bill knew that the man was well-to-do – he paid two of them to work there all summer, but he had no idea he had worked for the man behind the FAIRFAX vacuum cleaner we were thinking of buying (who cared about vacuum cleaners at fifteen years old??). Well, that settled the deal – SOLD; we were buying this expensive vacuum from a friend! I am not sure if we were the only gullible couple that fell for the sales pitch, but the salesman was right – it has lasted a lifetime. The FAIRFAX still works after 43 years, lasting about 25 years longer than the other modern, and, also very expensive and, now useless, vacuum cleaner – even if it has been stuck in the back of the closet for many years!
Time to sweep the carpet.
(Follow-up: The ancient vacuum cleaner, pulled from the back of the closet, still worked perfectly more than 40 years later. In fact, it cleaned better than the expensive, modern vacuum. Why had I stopped using it? It is heavy, awkward and unwieldy to pull all around the house and up the stairs. Our children called it the “spaceship”. No matter its appearance, it worked beautifully and continues to work so many years later. Maybe, it wasn’t such a bad purchase after all!)