The Avon Man and other gift-giving exploits

A young Buck Huffman, who would become "The Avon Man" in his old age, is pictured on one of his beloved rides.

Ding-dong! Avon calling…

And, sure enough, Pawpaw Buck Huffman answered.

His leather saddlebags packed with bookoos of cosmetics — sparkling lipstick, exotic perfumes, glamorous nail polish and mascara, etc. — the old man straddled his motorcycle and roared into town.

All set to deliver the goods.

And everywhere he stopped, he was greeted with cheer by housewives and bachelorettes eager to get their orders, all of them aiming to keep or attract a mate.

Naturally, Pawpaw Buck understood their game plan perfectly, as he himself was striving to keep a lady friend happy. She was a pro at selling Avon products, so much so that she needed help delivering all the door-to-door and beauty shop orders she collected, especially during the Christmas season.

Never fear. Pawpaw Buck was near. And that’s how he became “The Avon Man.”

It was a role he pulled off beautifully.

Memories like these tend to bubble up around this time of year, when I’m out here hustling and trying to find the perfect gift for my wife.

To keep her happy.

Kaleb, my 5-year-old son, has one-upped me, having already given his mommy an early Christmas gift. He had to give it early. Wrapping a pretty bouquet of Christmas flowers is virtually impossible — if you want to keep the flowers alive.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with giving an early present. This way, I know exactly how high the gift-giving bar’s been set.


And yet, there’s quite a bit of wiggle room when it comes to giving “meaningful” gifts. Sometimes simply doing a good deed will do. Then you don’t have to worry about tasking your ignorant hands with any wrapping jobs, or making sure an ornery bow stays stuck on a present.

Good deeds. I reckon the Avon Man was on to something. It sure beats

what my father used to do: break up with girlfriends right before big holidays or birthdays.

You could always make up afterward. Maybe.

Of course, that cop-out is a lot harder to pull off when you’ve tied the knot. The risk is ill-advised.

Better play it safe and get my wife a gag gift, like the whoopee cushion my great-grandfather, Henry, once got for a co-worker.

Expecting a laugh and perhaps an incredulous gesture after the present was opened, my grandfather instead found himself looking into a pair of misty eyes as the co-worker’s face radiated the most genuine sense of sincere appreciation.

The guy told my grandfather it would probably be the only thing he’d get that Christmas. My grandfather, in turn, wished he’d given something better.

Sometimes it’s a total crapshoot when it comes to knowing whether a gift’s going to be cherished or tossed into junk-drawer oblivion. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if many of my gifts are buried under decades-old catalogues, long-lost ink pens, random rubber bands and discarded love letters from cackling debt collectors.

Still, I hope some of my gifts managed to get put away somewhere better, perhaps even taken out occasionally for an admiring lookover. I’m referring to the ones I worked my tail off to buy.

Like the fancy Kmart jewelry I bought for a girlfriend back in middle school. Earning enough money required lots of firewood to be split, brush to be cleared, feed to be hauled.

And horse stalls to be shoveled.

There were six of them in Pawpaw Jim’s barn, one of which measured about the length of three. It was reserved for a mare and her colt.

Always looking to seal a good deal, Pawpaw Jim offered to pay me $5 per shoveled stall. Without hesitation, I agreed. But it was this very lack of hesitation that caused me to earn only $5 for the extra-long stall.

Business negotiating was not my strong suit.

And so I shoveled and shoveled, repeatedly filling a wheelbarrow and dumping it outside the barn. Hoping to get fed, the horses hung out for a while and watched intently, their disgruntled neighing indicating their frustration over empty troughs. At some point, they left, though some took it upon themselves to spite me by adding to my workload.

Eventually, I earned enough money to buy my perfect Kmart gift, and I was excited to give it to my girlfriend before school closed for Christmas break. In turn, she gave me two movies: “Independence Day” and “Python.”

To this day, I’m still haunted by a nagging suspicion that those movies came from a bargain bin. But I was extremely grateful all the same.

Now I’m getting the perfect gift for my wife. She never asks for much, but she deserves the very best — within a reasonable price range. Otherwise, I’d have to find some quick side work.

Perhaps I could give Avon a try. It’s a Huffman tradition, after all.

Keith Huffman can be reached at

Keith Huffman can be reached at

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