THE “PEANUT MAN”

By Nowell Briscoe

 

          I knew the answer to the question even before I asked, but wanted to see the expressions on the people’s faces when I asked, “Did you ever know ‘The Peanut Man’?”

          The looks I got from those newcomers to Monroe were priceless.  The expressions went from quizzical, to ridiculous, to looking at me like I was the crazy one with even a few chuckles and laughs thrown in.  No one had any idea who the peanut man was. Some thought I was joking; others thought it was a trick question. Just goes to show that those new to town are not well versed in the old time lore.

          To set the matter straight, which many if not all the older ones in town know, there actually was a “peanut man” in town in the guise of one Will Malcolm.

          Will appeared on Broad Street early on Saturday mornings, dressed in his shabby old overhauls, ratty tan hat on his head and a great big smile on his face.  Slung over his back was an enormous tan canvas bag which was almost twice the size of the man who carried it, full of roasted and boiled peanuts, contained in small brown paper sacks stapled closed.  He would start at the end of South Broad Street and make his way through town all the way up to where the old Carver High School Building is, selling his peanuts to any and all who wanted them.

          He stopped into every store on both sides of the street and met the folks on the streets. Most, if not all, were ready with their ten cents for the roasted peanuts and fifteen cents for the boiled.  Will always had a story for everyone he met and for those folks who had done a kindness for him or helped him out financially from time to time, the bags of peanuts were always “on the house”, saying he owed them more than he could ever repay.

          Back then, the busiest day of the week was Saturday when all the farmers and others from the country came to town to shop and buy groceries.  It was a great time to be on the sidewalk, visiting with folks you had not seen in a while and catching up on the news.  Just when you were in the middle of a conversation, you would hear, “Yes sir, yes sir!” and there was ol’ Will ambling down the street, one hand holding the bag slung over his shoulder while the other hand was out to shake a hand. Everyone knew Will and for those who had never met him before, he made sure that their first bag of his peanuts was free, to ensure future business.  He always said his peanuts were the finest around, which they were.

          Will began his weekly task of roasting his peanuts on Wednesdays and late Friday night for those delicious boiled peanuts.  He had a small shack in back of his house where he roasted the nuts and a big black cauldron full of salty water he would heat over a wood fire for the boiled peanuts.  Stories floated around that Will would stay up all night on Thursdays and Fridays tending to his peanuts while he cooked a pig and made Brunswick stew as the pig cooked over coals from another fire.  Some of the neighbors would come over and keep him company during the night as he prepared for his busy Saturday. Will had to have a back-up supply of peanuts to replenish his bag from time to time during the day, but he never told anyone where it was.  I wish it was known how many hundreds of thousands of peanuts Will sold during his Saturday runs.

          Will plied his trade as long as his health permitted, sometimes defying his doctor’s orders that he was getting too old to carry such a heavy burden.  The years took their toll and one Saturday Will was not on the sidewalk with his bag of peanuts.  Questions were asked and concern was raised.  It was learned that Will had died several days prior to making his “Saturday run” and the days of the beloved “Peanut Man” were no more.

          Had Will been able to see the large turnout of his Saturday customers at his funeral, it would have put one of those big smiles on his face.  There was no way Monroe would allow him to be buried without showing their love and appreciation for someone who brought a smile and a laugh on everyone’s face along with a small bag of roasted or boiled peanuts.  One of the local florists designed a large floral arrangement in the form of a peanut that stood at the head of his casket. It would have been only natural if Will’s shabby old peanut bag could have rested at the foot.

          Now, all these years later, when I open a can of boiled peanuts and begin enjoying those small, salted delicacies, the memory of “The Peanut Man” looms large in my thoughts as I remember the man who first gave me my appreciation for such a treat as he peddled his peanuts through Monroe on Saturdays.