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Men with Black Bags and
My New Year Resolution
by Amy Kenneley

There were many folks who came to our door on Newton Avenue. There was the Fuller Brush man, who managed to sell Great Grandma some combs. There was the Mailman, and we knew him by his whistling up the porch steps. I had a small crush on the Cleveland Press paper boy, but I wound up marrying the Shopping News boy.

Insurance --Just in Case

Of all the men who stood at our front door, none came inside except the two men who carried their black bags. They were the Metropolitan Life Insurance Man and the Family Doctor.

The Life Insurance Man came often. He dressed in a dark suit and white shirt. He wore a fedora and his hair was neatly trimmed. He spoke in a hearty tone to Grandpa, as if the term life policies he managed were not serious things. Perhaps he had been a Fuller Brush man in his younger days?

We each had an insurance policy: Great Grandma, Grandpa, Mother and me. I wasn't sure what an insurance policy was at the time, and when I asked, was told it was for "in case." There were no fancy extras attached to our insurance policies, no money for unemployment, sickness coverage, extended care. No, our insurance was strictly for the worst "In Case." Enough to get you decently buried.

So, Mr. "In Case" arrived often, because in our neighborhood you paid your quarters or even a dollar on a regular basis as well. There were no checkbooks, no credit cards, no online banking. And if families moved around or jobs disappeared quickly, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Man had to gather our payments just as quickly, for his own "In Case."

Seated at the kitchen table, breakfast crumbs hastily wiped away, the man placed his thick black leather bag down. When opened, it contained his entire collection of families. Pages of names, addresses, amounts of insurance were catalogued on ruled lines of blue and red. The life of a neighborhood contained in one satchel, and all pages attached together and bound into a tome the size of a large family bible. Amounts would be totaled, and the payment taken from a certain kitchen drawer that held the family debt money. A few inquiries as to everyone's health were meant not as inquisitional ones, but merely for politeness' sake.

A receipt was written out, the man flourishing his Waterman fountain pen. He tore the receipt carefully from the back section of the book, waving it gently to dry the ink. Then he handed it to Grandpa, zipping up the entire satchel and enclosing the insurance papers. He picked up his fedora from the nearby chair and exited the house, footsteps fading as he walked to the next client.

The Doctor says "Hmm"

The Family Doctor arrived less frequently. He never had to wait to be let in, because someone was watching for his arrival. He always entered holding his black doctor's bag firmly in front of him, preceding him through the door like a shield against whatever germy bug might be inside. His silver hair gleamed wise reassurance as he doffed off his own fedora. This was a time when menwore appropriate hats that identified their occupation, before an entire male population donned baseball caps.

His gray pin-striped suit oozed correctness and reliability. His voice was modulated to the ethereal. He said little, nodded much, questioned quietly but thoroughly. Opening his bag, he would extract first a stethescope, unwinding and placing it in his ears tenderly. You could tell it was a part of him. Pressing the bell near the heart he would narrow his eyes and say "deep breath" "again" "cough."

As though there was some siren calling from a distant sea, he listened intently for whatever signs his doctor-world would know about. "Hmmmm" he would say, which said nothing, as he carefully stowed the instrument back into his bag. Next he would bring out a wooden tongue depressor, and place the stick far enough down one's throat to confirm there was a gag reflex. "Say Ah" he would unnecessarily instruct, as you were already past "Ah" and into "ARRRGH!"

Sometimes medication was in order. He pulled his own Waterman pen from his inside suit jacket. (There must have been a Burrows office store that catered to doctors and life insurance men).

Hieroglyphing the lines, he pulled off the small white paper from his prescription pad with a "zip". He smiled reassuringly. No one was yet bound for the hospital. Out the door he went. A bill would arrive if we did not pay at the time of visitation.

Plans for Life

The Life Insurance Man and the Family Doctor were my nostalgia. I was remembering them now as I practicied an impatient arpeggio on the dining room table with one hand, while holding a phone with the other. The recorded voice reassured me once more that "your call is important to us."

I remembered that the men who came to our door had a plan. They had their day planned out, their routes and routines arranged. They came to us. We knew that for a short time at least, we were important to them as well. They didn't keep us waiting. Time for them was a marker of how their day was planned.

As I grew up, I learned that our family relied on plans, too.There was Laundry Day, and Ironing Day, weekly paychecks and weekly grocery shopping.There were seasonal things: back to school clothes, holiday shopping, spring cleaning. I learned that I had to fit into plans, too. Seeing the dentist, buying shoes, practicing flash cards. Yes, time could work for me if I had a plan.

But fast forwarding to when I was a wife and mother, it seemed there were no plans at all. No sooner thinking about an event than it was upon me, no time to catch my breath. Did I have a plan? Only to get through one day at a time. It was with great wonder that I discovered some folks actually had plans past next week. Some had 5 year plans and 10 year plans. Some looked into the distant future of retirement and had it all planned!

For me, the next day was enough. Get them to school on time, get dinner on the table, hopefully a hot tub soak at night. Did Himself and I talk about our future plans? There were wishes and dreams, but did life just happen to us? Somehow the children grew and thrived, without our mapping out a strategy, it seemed.

The New Plan

The irony of my life is that now that there is plenty of time to plan, the time grows shorter in which to do it. So-I still have no 10 year plan, or even a 5 year plan. But for 2016 my plan is this:

Day One: Praise God. Smile a lot. Do something useful. Be there for someone. Give more, expect less. Love when you don't want to.

Day Two: repeat same.

Day Three: repeat same., etc., etc. If I can do this, I think I can get by 2016 pretty well. Yet I know that even the best plans go off on detours. I could need a Plan B-----you know, just "In Case."

May all your plans and detours for the coming year be filled with hope!



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