Full Circle: A Fuller life … with a Fuller Brush

Published 7:43 am Friday, June 9, 2017

There it sits on the edge of my bathroom sink like a loyal sentry awaiting its next task. The white stubby handle is still white and stubby, and its bristles are as straight and immaculate as the day it was made.  Actually it looks like it hasn’t done a day’s work in its life. How long have I had it, I wonder? Let’s see. Must be close to sixty years. And more importantly, how I could have raised three sociably presentable children plus four grands without it?

As the daughter of a grocer, I grew up knowing that clean hands and nails were not only important, but crucial — right up there with surgeons having antiseptic hands. I’d seen old men using pen knives to clean their nails, like they were carving live wood. Never really worked; never did a thorough job. And auto mechanics were a lost cause, their hands revealing how they earned a living. But a grocer was different. He handled the food that his customers ate. His hands had to be clean.

I remember the day Mom gave that little brush to me. We were sitting in the living room when the doorbell rang. She answered it. There stood the Fuller Brush man. Mom loved the Fuller Brush man, greeting him like a long lost relative. Hustling him to a seat on the davenport, she and I waited anxiously as he opened his brown leather satchel. We knew it contained a virtual cornucopia of brushes for every known use in the kingdom. As usual we were prepared, for we’d been scouring the catalog since his last visit. But a catalog was only pictures. Now we were about to hold the real deals in our hands.

Fuller brushes were expensive. I had no sense of this as a child because Fuller brushes were as ubiquitous in my house as books or toothpaste or soup bowls. Not until I became a teen and learned the value of money did I appreciate their price tags.

I think we kids were out of Mom’s womb only a few weeks when she began gently scrubbing our nails. Later, when we were into serious dirt, she’d — with furrowed brow — go at it with a vengeance beginning with the tight skinny side of the brush which was designed for extra grievously grubby fingers — fingers like ours. She angled the rigid compacted bristles under and around our nails like a woman possessed. Only when she was satisfied that nothing less than an electron microscope could detect any lingering grime did she complete the job by flipping the brush over to the wide side to polish off the operation. The scary thing is that I grew up being the same kind of fingernail obsessive compulsive mother. But, you know what? I’m glad I did. I’ve noticed that my grownup children still have extremely clean hands; yet one more validation of having done my job.

When the Fuller Brush man visited on that memorable day I heard Mom say, “I’d like one more fingernail brush, please.” Digging in his bulging bag, he pulled it out and handed it to her. She swiveled in her seat and handed it to me. I was stunned. A Fuller fingernail brush of my own? It was like I’d been handed the passing of the torch, a coming of age. It was inauguration into adulthood and proof of my new status. I was to take it with me to college.

Who could have guessed back then how many decades I’d treasure that little brush? And that with only an occasional soaking in bleach it would remain like new? Talk about product quality! Loyalty! Longevity!

Moreover, who could have guessed it would be the final spit and polish my family needed as we progressed through life for who could have counted how many untold good first impressions it helped us make?

In my way of thinking, credit should be given where credit is due. For instance, it has been said that “clothes make the man.” I would argue that all the fashions in the world cannot help you if you’re not also a Fuller Fingernail Brush man.

I got to wondering the other day if Fuller brush men were still around. Guess what? One remains among us, alive and well.
Peggy Keener of Austin is the author of two books: “Potato In A Rice Bowl” and “Wondahful Mammaries.” Peggy Keener invites readers to share their memories with her by emailing maggiemamm16@gmail.com. Memories shared with Keener may be shared or referenced in subsequent editions of “Full Circle.”