My musical memory works in funny ways sometimes. I’ll hear something that starts a little tickle deep inside, just a whisper or hint of a memory that I can’t quite grasp. Eventually I’ll figure it out — or more likely, drive myself nuts trying.
It happened again today while I was listening to Tommy James and the Shondells performing “Crimson and Clover.” As I listened to the familiar number-one hit from forty years ago, I kept thinking that there was something about clover that connected to a childhood memory. Four-leaf clover? Nope. Playing in fields of clover? I sometimes did that as a kid, but… And then it hit me — the memory of my brief and unsuccessful career as a young salesman for Cloverine salve.
I guess it started with my love of comic books, which I wrote about recently. As someone who read and re-read comic books endlessly, I also spent some time scanning the various ads they carried. Usually they’d be something that was just irresistible, like ads for huge packets of foreign stamps ‘on approval’, a term that didn’t mean much to a kid until it came time to pay.
The folks at Cloverine loaded their ads with all kinds of great prizes that a kid could get, including cameras, BB guns and bicycles, just for selling their little tins of ointment. Or you could even take your commission in cash. Of course, they didn’t tell you how many zillion you’d have to sell to get the big stuff — and they didn’t tell you how tough it would be.
I have to confess that I’ve filled in some of the blanks in my memory by doing a little research, and it turns out that the Cloverine folks — the Wilson Chemical Company — were pioneers in utilizing America’s kids in this way. By the time I got involved, they’d already been doing it successfully for a couple of decades.
In any case, I sent in the coupon and soon received a box loaded with the tins of ointment– its official name was White Cloverine Salve. Inside the box was a stack of nice color pictures that you’d give away to your customers with each purchase of salve. When you’d sold all the tins, you were to send most of the money back to the company and keep your commission — or apply it toward the prizes.
You can probably guess how it all turned out. I was awful at door-to-door selling, and besides that, all the neighbors had already had countless little grubby kids constantly trying to sell stuff to them. After getting a talking-to from my mother, she helped me unload — I mean sell — my goods to family and friends. I earned something like a dollar out of it, and some of that went for a money order and postage to send payment to the company.
And so ended my adventure with Cloverine. You can still buy the stuff at specialty stores, but it costs something like 7 or 8 bucks. When I was selling it, the price was 25 cents — and you got a free picture.