The Color Peddler


In rural Texas, anyone inclined toward roads less traveled eventually notices cultural differences as well as changes in the landscape. On farm-to-market and county roads — paved or unpaved, usually numbered but sometimes named — you can travel for miles or days without seeing a single Amazon Prime delivery van or a Tesla. Pickups and cattle trailers abound; sometimes, working cowboys on live horses supplant horsepower.

Fairly well off the beaten path during my recent explorations, I discovered a hand-lettered sign saying “No Peddlers’ tacked to a fence. The old-fashioned word triggered memories of peddlers from my childhood, although in those years the term ‘peddler’ had been upgraded to ‘door-to-door salesman’ in towns. Still, peddlers they were: working the neighborhoods with their encyclopedias, cooking pots, or vacuum cleaners, hoping to close a sale or two before day’s end.

I couldn’t help being curious about the person who posted the sign, or what sort of visitor had occasioned it. No doubt too many peddlers could be annoying, but my grandmother regularly welcomed a fellow who sold sewing notions: threads of every sort, lace trims, needles and pins.

He also carried a heavy book filled with fabric swatches like those still used for wallpaper or upholstery samples. Once home, I couldn’t help seeing the assortment of floral landscapes I’d photographed as swatches of color, or thinking of nature as a peddler of sorts — roaming the countryside and showing off her wares. Personally, I’m more than willing to invest in them, especially since this year’s offerings have been of exceptional quality.

Bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrush ~ Lavaca County
Bluebonnets, Indian Paintbrush, Huisache Daisy ~ Goliad County
Phlox and Texas Toadflax ~ Gonzales County
    Bluebonnets, Huisache Daisy ~ Goliad CountyIndian Paintbrush, Huisache Daisy ~ Goliad County
Bluebonnets, Pink Phlox ~ Aransas County
Texas Groundsel, Mixed Phlox, Bluebonnets ~ Gonzales County
Red and Pink Phlox, Texas Toadflax ~ Gonzales County


Comments always are welcome.
And if you should have the impulse to get out and about, looking for spring color, for heaven’s sake don’t hesitate.

90 thoughts on “The Color Peddler

  1. You are fortunate to have all that gorgeous color. I remember some traveling salesmen trying to sell their wares. We got a set of encyclopedias that got used a lot by our big family. The vacuum salesman probably got mom to buy her Electrolux. The fish man from the river town would come around with catfish before Fridays.

    1. Fortunate, indeed. For some weeks, I had the sense that spring was going to provide quite an explosion of flowers; when it dallied, I thought I might have been wrong. Now, it’s clear that it’s going to be a fine season. I hope it lingers for a while.

      My mother had an Electrolux, and we had two sets of encyclopedias. The Britannica came first; later, a set of World Books was added. Either was great reading on a rainy afternoon, and more than a few school projects got a start in their pages. We had to wait for our catfish, though. We didn’t get that until we visited relative in the Quad Cities.

      1. Not many signs of spring here. In fact, we got 2″ of snow before dawn. It won’t last thru the day as it will reach 50˚ later. I do have a few daffodils emerging and the garlic is pushing through the leaf cover.

    2. Gorgeous gorgeous gorgeous!!!

      Early in our marriage, Mike was “tricked” into becoming a vacuum cleaner salesman (the ad was about improving the air quality in homes). Oof – that was a miserable time for him. He is so not a salesman. On the other hand, we had a really great vacuum cleaner for many years (we made the only purchase in his brief career).

        1. It was a Filter Queen. Good vacuum, but not a good job for my husband!

          P.S. Didn’t mean to reply to your comment – I got lost in the comment section. Ha!

        2. I had a Kirby for years and years. It was passed down to me from an aunt who wanted to ‘modernize.’ The thing refused to die, and I finally passed it on to someone else.

  2. You’re going to have a lot of readers oohing and aahing about Texas’s spring wildflower bonanza in the good year this has become in the places where you roamed. Our one overlap seems to be Gonzales County, though the sights from your other counties look similar to those in other areas I’ve seen in central Texas.

    1. I still haven’t made it west of Gonzales, through Monthalia, or north of Hallettsville around Moravia. That was rich territory last year; I’m going to make a run for it today and see what I can see. There are a lot of cemeteries in the area that may or may not be flowerful. I’d thought of making another weekend of it, but the weather looks iffy tomorrow, so I’ll put that off.

        1. I never made it west of Edna, and spent a lot of time on TX111. I never saw a bluebonnet, but the fields were covered with blue-eyed grass, Packera glabella, and pink evening primrose. The primroses were everywhere; clearly their time table differed from what I’d imagined.

          1. I looked up a couple of dense pink evening primrose colony photographs I’ve shown in recent years and found I’d taken them on April 2 and April 9. We saw a bunch east of San Antonio yesterday. They may be a bit earlier than average this year, but not much, at least for the areas where I’ve traveled.

    1. Isn’t that the truth. On the other hand, more and more landowners are beginning to see the light when it comes to allowing flowers to stay unmowed until they’ve set seed, and of course the highway department does its thing on the flowers’ behalf. I’m not certain we have the most beautiful spring roadsides in the country, but they’re sure in the running.

    1. I was so taken with the sign, I had to find some way to put it to use, Derrick. I tend to anthropomorphize anyway, so the thought of nature as a country peddler took form fairly quickly.

    1. Isn’t it wonderful? We’ll have color of one sort or another for months now, but there’s nothing like the vibrant mixed displays that emerge in spring. Photos can’t fully capture the experience, but they’re great reminders of these annual pleasures when November and December roll around.

    1. It’s not too late, although I realized yesterday that the season is changing already, and new species are beginning to appear. Some flowers I’d assumed were thin this year — like the pink evening primrose — were just a little slow coming into their own, and there were fields so full of blue-eyed grass it looked like a blue haze over the ground. I’ve never been able to capture one bit of that blue haze with the camera, but it sure is pretty.

  3. I remember the famous Fuller brush salesman that came to or house a few times. Whoa, you know how to bring back memories!
    Now – don’t those fields look better than condos we have or the cleared fields getting ready for more home homes to be built?

    1. I’d forgotten about the Fuller brush man! I can’t remember if we had any of those products in the house, but he certainly became iconic. I’ve been told, but can’t verify, that Professor Harold Hill in The Music Man was modeled at least partly on the Fuller brush man.

      These fields sure do look better than a standard housing tract: and thank goodness for private property owners who are leaving spaces for these flowers on their property. On the other hand, we have pretty fancy ditches, too. The photos of the pink and red phlox came straight from ditches alongside Texas roads.

    1. It’s hard for me to capture the scope of some of these fields, but the colors are easier, and they are spectacular. I was a little surprised myself when I began sorting through images and realized how much variety there was.

  4. Oh Linda, what a glorious riot of Texas wildflowers! And yes, something like the sample swatches. Enjoyed your narrative too, reminiscing on the “peddler” times, especially like the image of your grandmother. Really fun to see this profusion of wildflowers….

    1. Even though we don’t have interminable cold or snow, we do have brown/beige/graywinters, and the coming of the wildflowers is fully as appreciated as the first daffodils or snowdrops farther north. There’s something about colorful fields that makes everyone happy. Your California poppies are just as impressive and smile producing as these; it’s wonderful that so many can have the experience of seeing such color in one form or another.

  5. This is downright un-Texan of me, but I rarely go out to see the spring flowers. There, I said it.

    I’m not big on random car rides; I don’t get sick, I’m just not interested in driving and I don’t want to sit for that long. That said, I love to see the wildflower along the roads here in Austin and I enjoy seeing the blooms if I’m going somewhere. Besides, I have your gorgeous photos to enjoy and you always have the best links that go with your posts (and that you add to your comments on my posts!).

    1. That made me laugh, Tina. To be honest, the thought of getting in a car and driving for two hours to “look at the flowers” through a car window or make an occasional stop for a photo shoot would bore me to death.

      Granted, I enjoy driving, and nothing makes me happier than a road trip. But when I’m off to look for flowers, you’ll as often see the car parked somewhere with its flashers on as rolling down the road; I have great peripheral vision and a willingness to slam on the brakes. As for speed, my current record is a nine-hour jaunt through the thirteen-mile-long Willow City loop. ‘Nuf said!

      Of course, if we flip this particular coin, I could say that the thought of gardening leaves me cold — but I love seeing your garden, watching its developments, and learning about plants through it. So we’re even!

  6. Gorgeous color! Husband and I did get out for a drive this morning and saw a few flowers but nothing like yours.

    I haven’t thought about peddlers in years. My father was apt to run them off the ranch if he was around the house. He did allow the “Watkins man” as my mother bought vanilla from him. Father liked his cakes!

    1. You might begin seeing different flowers closer to you. I was astonished yesterday by fields filled with pink evening primrose. I’d not seen many of those at all, and thought they were going to have a ‘down’ year. Not so. They just are appearing later than I’d expected.

      I have a hill country friend who still uses Watkins products. She won’t use anything but their vanilla in her baking. A good product can stand the test of time!

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed these bits of color, Eliza. Consider this a foretaste of what you’ll be able to see when you finally make it to Texas for your wildflower tour. Timing is everything, of course, but these will continue on for a bit longer in places, and even now new and equally beautiful species are emerging.

    1. The sharing’s a good bit of the fun. I love the finding and learning about when it comes to nature, but there’s a certain amount of “Hey! Lookie what I found!” involved, too.

  7. All I can say is…..stunning. The carpet(s) of colour is amazing and well worth driving or walking around.

    Apparently, our western state (West Australia Wildflower tours) has similar types of colour during the right season (later summer?). I made a brief stop there on the way home from London in 1979, but I didn’t see any on the brief country trip family members took me on to visit friends.

    1. The important phrase in your comment is ‘right season.’ I used to think of the flowers known as ‘spring ephemerals’ as tiny and delicate, but these also come and go relatively quickly, despite their size and toughness. That makes the urge to get out and see them even more powerful. The time will come when I’m not able to drive to them or walk among them, and having a photographic record will help the memories to stay.

    1. We still have knife sharpeners who ply their trade, but they set up shop at the various farmers’ markets in the area, and we carry whatever needs sharpening to them. I know there were ‘ragmen’ in my parents’ youth, but what I remember are the paper collectors. We had a wooden box outside the kitchen where we’d bundle and tie the daily newspapers. If there wasn’t a paper drive in the near future to raise money for a school project or such, there was a man who’d show up and cart them away. I can’t remember now how much those old newspapers were worth per pound, but it was enough that they were worth saving.

    1. The bees are busy — but so are the various caterpillars, ladybugs, katydid nymphs and other petal-eaters. Some of the first flowers in species different from these are filled with holes made by hungry insects! That said, yesterday I found a new pair of species covered in big, fat bumblebees. Hearing that buzz again was wonderful!

    1. They’re just gorgeous. And, yes: the bees are even happier with them than I am. Yesterday’s real treat was bumblebees: at least a couple of species feeding at prairie flowers. I have about fifty or more photos of them, and I’m hoping that at least one is worth showing!

  8. I remember door-to-door salesmen, always men, coming to the door. My parents were polite but said NO. Talk about a different world. Your photos are beautiful, the colors are spirited.

    1. Spirited’s a good word for all the colors. It’s as though Nature heard there was going to be a party, and went looking for something special to wear. It occurred to me today that I once did door-to-door sales: when I was a Camp Fire Girl (analogous to Girl Scouts) and yearly candy sales were our way of making money for projects. Talk about a different world — there was no thought of parents forcing candy on bridge partners or coworkers. We were expected to get out on the street and knock on doors, and then do our best to persuade people to buy. The way kids are kept from that kind of interaction today really bothers me — almost as much as those horrid lines of cars dropping kids off at school and then picking them up. Walking to school with friends was one of the best things we did.

      1. I sold Girl Scout cookies but had friends in the Camp Fire Girls who sold candy. You’re right that we were pushed out the front door and told to do our best. I wasn’t good at selling, btw. I, too, walked to school most days, but that’s a thing of the past. Now there are too many after school activities that kids must be driven to. We just went home after school and that was that.

    1. Aren’ they something? This weekend, I noticed pink and yellow overtaking some fields; these flowers will fade, but others will come along to replace them. And then, we’ll have the gold and purple flowers of summer!

  9. I think I need to visit Texas some spring to see those fields of blue bonnets in person! And yes, I remember peddlers when I was young. I liked them too….especially the guy with the strawberry cart. He’d walk slowly up the street, calling out, “Strawberries! Strawberries! Fresh, good strawberries!” I’d beg my mom to buy some, because they were delicious. She usually did.

    1. You’d love the experience, Ann. You could throw in a visit to our beaches, too — although I’d recommend visiting a little farther down the coast. Galveston’s a bit too ‘youthful’ (read: beer and loud music) for me.

      That’s interesting, that you had a strawberry seller. A friend from Charleston remembers the fishmongers there. One famous one, Papa Joe, sold shrimp almost a century ago. We found this video that shows him at work. Begin at about 4:25 in the video, and there’s a section about Charleston’s street vendors that includes Papa Joe calling out his wares.

      1. Thanks for the video link! I’ll watch it. And it sounds as if Galveston is too youthful for this old lady too, but going a bit further down the coast could be jus the ticket. PS: We had knife sharpeners too, plus the every popular ice cream truck. I remember being in our back yard wading pool with all the neighborhood kids, cheering my mom on as she ran after the truck, with her hair in curlers. The old days!!!

        1. You had a truly dedicated mom. Mine wouldn’t have been seen outside the house with curlers in her hair! Nor in a housecoat, for that matter. It was a time, for sure.

  10. Linda, these are simply stunning, a real feast for the eyes! Fields of these Texas beauties — all in bloom — must be especially striking to see in person, though your photos are exceptional.

    1. Experiencing them is so much more than sight. There’s the fragrance of the bluebonnets, the sound of bees buzzing around the flowers, and the feel of the breeze over the land. But, since I can’t share all of that, the visuals will have to do — I enjoyed seeking out the flowers, and I’m glad you enjoyed them, too!

  11. Well, you ignored the sign and now that you have forced me to look through your heavy book of fabric swatches, I’ll take something in ALL those colors!

    Glorious seems to me the best description of your photographs. A true celebration of Spring!

    We have seen a resurgence in door-to-door sales activity. The main products are new windows, home alarm systems and the “I’m not selling anything” cable T.V. representative.

    1. And since you’re placing such a substantial order, I’ll give you a substantial discount:100%, with a nice lemonade to make looking through the swatches even more pleasant!If Gini doesn’t like any of these, I’ll see what I can do to find something more suitable. Something with birds, maybe.

      My apartment complex has such a firm ‘no soliciting’ policy that we usually don’t get anything but placards hung on doorknobs by the pizza joints. The mostly passive approach on their part’s not especially annoying, and given the number of pizza deliveries I see being made, it probably works pretty well!

    1. Every time I look at these photos, I smile and smile. I look forward to this season every year, and this season’s color has been wonderful. Some years aren’t so remarkable, of course, and I have seen a year or two with lusher flowers, but I’ve learned over the years to accept what’s offered, with thanks. I will fuss a bit when drought or whatever leads to a less dramatic crop of flowers, but this isn’t a season to fuss!

  12. Nowadays, quilters call those ditzy prints, a happy field of mixed-color flowers. My dad spent a little time in the late 30’s or early 40’s riding the rails with hobos. He taught me a few of the graphic symbols posted on fences by hobos indicating the receptiveness and generosity (or lack thereof) of the residents. I often thought the later peddlers may have appreciated those signs as indicators of a soft touch, or hard sell.

    1. You’ve just solved a mystery for me. I’ve often mentioned that the fields of flowers remind me of calico prints, but that wasn’t quite right. When I looked up ditzy (or ditsy) prints, that was exactly what I see in these fields.

      My grandparents lived in south central Iowa, in a little soft coal mining town. A shortline railroad ran right behind their house, and there were plenty of guys who came through looking for work in the mines. My grandmother was free with water, sandwiches, and such, and I wasn’t very old when I learned about the meaning of the smiling cat on the telephone pole!

  13. Specular fields of color! I so needed to see those pictures as spring still isn’t springing forth much here. Anyway, funny you mentioned “peddlars”- my husband and I were just talking about those we remember in our childhoods showing up at our parents’ doors – Jewel Tea, Raleigh products, Fuller Brush, not to mention others who came around selling various goods from eggs to candy to Avon. One time a photographer even came to our house when I was very young and my Mom had him take my photo (which I still have). Times were so different then. I can’t imagine a young mother allowing a strange man in her house now to take her baby’s picture.

    1. I still have some of my mother’s Jewel Tea pieces, and of course everyone knew the Avon lady. We didn’t have fish peddlers, but having a bit o’ the Irish in our background, we knew Molly Malone’s song:

      “In Dublin’s fair city,
      Where the Girls are so pretty,
      I first set my eyes,
      On sweet Molly Malone,
      As she wheeled her wheel barrow,
      Through the streets broad and narrow,
      Crying cockles and mussels,
      Alive alive o!”

      It’s wonderful that you still have that photo from your childhood. It was a different time, and a good one. I can’t help but wish that the safety and security we knew then could be part of today’s children’s lives. So many forces — including politicians, bureaucrats, and media — are so intent on whipping up fear that it’s become nearly impossible for peole to trust one another without a real effort. It’s an effort I’m happy to make.

      1. I too possess some Jewel Tea pieces and even have a couple of Avon perfume jars that were my mom’s. And wow, I remember every word of that Molly Malone song yet I have no Irish in my background. I suspect my grandmother taught me that song as well as many others. I couldn’t agree more with you about the state of our lives today…so much fear has been a steady diet for far too long!

    1. Some years the flowers are ‘better’ than in other years — lusher, and truly vibrant — but even in a so-called ‘poor’ year, they’re quite a sight. I love a good bit about Texas, but these flowers certainly are among my favorite things.

    1. I learned something from another reader. These often remind me of floral prints, and I’ve only had the word ‘calico’ to describe them. She told me that quilters call them ‘ditzy’ prints, and when I looked those up, sure enough; there are a lot of those prints that look remarkably like these fields. I know that Monet would have loved them — and wouldn’t a ditzy print made a fabulous sundress?

  14. As a child I was a peddler. Not forced by my parents to be a child laborer but so I could have spending money. I sold Christmas and other holiday cards door to door. Since I was a youngster nobody shooed me off their property at gunpoint but I was not terribly successful either. I could use one of those signs but instead made my own allowing only town sports team representative trying to raise money for new unis or gloves or whatever to disturb our peace. Most folks honor my sign and the others experience a very unfriendly greeting. However the last one successfully, over a few months, sold us solar panels. So I appreciate that one.
    I could see one of those, or more, on a local Applebee’s there. The ones here do use local imagery as their decor. They are spectacular!

      1. I figured that. On the other hand, it occurred to me I’ve never been in an Applebee’s — at least, that I remember. It turns out there are only five in the greater Houston area, and none are at all close to me, so that probably explains that.

        1. I mentioned Applebee’s because of their doing murals of local scenes, at least here in New England as well as highlighting local sports teams. As far as the restaurant’s menu goes I prefer Chili’s but have not gone to either in several years. We don’t go out much and despite my images hanging on the walls we have not gone to the local restaurant yet that has my display for about 9 months now. One of these days we’ll have the remedy that.

          1. I was thinking ‘an evening with the artist’ would be fun. Then I remembered how much you enjoy socializing in crowds, and thought, “Umm.. maybe not.”

            1. The restaurant did have a reception which they advertised on social media. Fortunately for me, only a few friends and one or two others showed up so I just hung back, ate pizza, had a little wine, and talked when I had to. Fortunately the friends were mostly Mary Beth’s so she did the talking. I could tell you stories about how my introvert act has realized troubles and you’d think that would make me more outgoing. Not.

    1. Apart from selling candy when I was the Camp Fire girls, my only other experience of house-to-house involved our school paper drives. If people didn’t already save and bundle their newspapers, we taught them how to do it, and then set up a schedule to collect the papers. I’ve tried to remember how much we earned per pound, but one year it was enough to fund a trip to the state capitol. Talk about another world.

      I laughed at the thought of you posting a sort of no peddlers sign. Now, if only we could do the same with our phones. I actually don’t have much trouble with spam calls, but since changing my health insurance, I’ve learned just how “corporate” some health care has become. I’ll not even mention the name here, lest it be one more way for them to get their metaphorical foot into my metaphorical door!

      1. I did a few fundraising stints while in high school and had a paper route. At that time we collected for the papers rather than billing as they do now. It was so long ago that people paid me with change…a dollar bill was too much and required change. Interestingly no one ever said “keep the change”.

  15. Really excellent photos. My pictures of the Indian paintbrush pale in comparison. The iPhone does not show depth field or it could be the person tapping the button.

    1. Or it could be a difference in the stage of the Indian paintbrush bloom. The weekend I took these photos, I noticed quite a difference between, say, Rockport and the Hallettsville area. I think some areas had much more rain, especially between Goliad and Gonzales, and that sure can make a difference. Anyway: thanks! Running around to see these flowers is one of my favorite things to do.

  16. I hate not being able to access this on my desktop. These photos are great, show depth of field much better than my snapshots. Clearly these areas got more rain than around here.

    1. Oh, shoot. I hate that you can’t see them on your desktop, too. I vaguely remember some discussion about that in the past. Do you know what the problem is? Could it be an old browser? WordPress is optimized for nearly everything in the world. If you let me know your operating system and browser, I could contact one of our gurus and see if they have a clue. Because I pay for certain things, I get fast and usually on-target help.

  17. Those certainly are some amazing color swatches! They beat any I’ve seen in stores. As for peddlers, if you’ll just give me a moment to spread some dirt and mud around your rug so I can demonstrate how fantastic this new vacuum cleaner is!

    1. Look at you! Someone remembers the old tricks of the door-to-door salesmen. The last time I saw that approach, I watched a fellow demonstrate his power washer on the side of a house. It took the owner a few minutes to realize how he’d been tricked — with the big, clean, white square on the side of the house, there was nothing for it but to do the whole thing! And, yes: the colors this spring have been amazing, but they always are when our spring arrives.

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