Rag Peddler

The house in which I grew up had a story attached to it. This is part of that story.

Once upon a time, there was a rag peddler well known through out most of town. Almost daily, he went about his rounds, knocking politely door-to-door to inquire about old clothing, worn-out coats, woolen suits, which busy moth millers may have found tasty while they made unsightly with holes, as well as collecting used bedroom and kitchen linens ready to be recycled or burned in the backyard barrel of a household’s yard.


The rag peddler even collected worn-out rag rugs which were compromised, because some of the cotton strings–which had been binding the rug’s carefully ripped strips–were spent. Those over-worn places on the rag rugs had seen many shoes, slippers and winter boots shuffled, scraped or wiped across them through the seasons of many years. The rugs camefrom near a front door—or a back door, at the side of a bed on a cold floor, in front of a kitchen sink or even from before an old-fashioned cast-iron stove. At any rate, the rag stripping was now herniated, bulging past the broken cotton strings once binding it together.

Knocking, asking and collecting had to be done every day of the work week. Mr. Fox’s wife and their nine children needed to eat. In addition to this, each item Mr. Fox collected had to be sorted and possibly dismantled according to its fabric type. Cotton. Wool. Linen.

Fabric choices were simpler years ago, as they were not usually blended or combined. Synthetic or “manmade” fabrics were not in widespread use at the time. This made Mr. Fox’s job less complicated than it would be now. The most complicated tasks he may have faced involved removing as-yet-unremoved buttons or zippers, separating the felted-wool liners of winter coats from their cotton shells or ensuring that wool suits were separated from their polished linings.

Every fabric type had its place, its proper pile. Mr. Fox and his wife lived frugally and almost one on top of another with their children. The fabrics Mr. Fox collected were sold, once they were rebundled. Woolen fabrics might be shredded, felted and remade into the linings of yet other winter coats or boot liners. Woolen comforters had their internal battings recarded to be made into new bats. Cotton and linen fabrics were bundled and sold to be remade into expensive papers.

No one in town really knew how Mr. Fox and his family made ends meet, but they did. Everyone in town knew to hold onto their worn-out clothing and linens, waiting for Mr. Fox’s next round for pickup. Winters were long, and people in our town tended to look out for one another, as much as any neighbor can look after another. Still, everyone knew Mr. Fox and his family were probably better off here in the New World than they may have been in the Old World.

In my own experiences of childhood, not much went to waste; and, I imagine having a resourceful recycler helping the community in the form of a rag peddler was just part of the landscape of a smart, efficient local economy.

On the very north edge of town one day, the building of a new house began to take shape. The foundation for this new house appeared to stand all by itself in a field, because it was so far north and apart from the other houses of the city. Stone by stone, the home’s basement was constructed. Eventually, the house would have a large living room, matching dining room and a grand kitchen, as well as four bedrooms—for Mr. Fox, Mrs. Fox and all of their children. But, the biggest luxury was that this new house had indoor plumbing, a fairly new phenomenon.

Mr. Fox and his family surprised many people in town when they moved into their modern home. After years of hard work and careful saving, this house was theirs. No one spoke of the rag peddler and his family as poor anymore.