Maggie Wilson Author

Historical Non-Fiction in Northern Ontario

The Underwear Salesman

papergirlWhen I was eleven or twelve, all three of the children in the Wilson household had paper routes. Distributors dropped bundles of the Kitchener-Waterloo Record outside our house and Dad lugged them inside to organize the loads. Since the Record was an evening paper, we delivered the news after school and before dinner.

My route started three blocks from home and wound through a turn-of-the century neighbourhood and on to the semi-commercial section along the main street. Part of the block held larger, statelier homes; the rest were functional workers’ cottages. Buildings in the commercial section were converted homes with businesses on the main floor and apartments up. The tenants were students or elderly gentlemen. I delivered papers to a funeral parlour, a florist, a nursing home, and a couple of real estate agents.

One of the families hired me to babysit, another offered me my first kitten. I was bit by a dog for the first time, too! (Nasty nippy yippy thing!) The florist’s smelled of incense, and the students apartments of wacky tabacky. The kitchen belonging to the two-hundred-year-old German couple was always steaming hot and smelled of sauerkraut.

In those days, it was up to the carrier to collect the subscription fees, usually every Friday evening. Sometimes, if the customer was home when I delivered the paper, I’d get paid then. But most often it required a separate trip.

Most of the customers paid on time, and some tipped generously, especially at Christmas. Mr. Costello, one of the elderly gents was a favourite. He always wore his fedora, even indoors. He was kind, and I felt safe with him. I cannot say the same for the gentleman who lived above the real estate office on the corner.

At first there was nothing unusual about Mr. BVD. He was old, thin, and grey, and a bit hard-of-hearing, but otherwise no bother. Sometimes when I came by to collect the fee, he had left the change with the receptionist in the real estate office on the main floor. That was nice – saved me a trip up a steep flight of stairs.

But then things got weird.

One Friday evening, when he opened the door, he was naked except for his briefs. That was off-putting. Next week, the same. Briefs and a peculiar smile.

The third week, he started to change it up a little. It took him a long time to answer the door. I thought he was out, so I made my way down the stairs. Then I heard the door open. I turned around and there he was, in all his grisly, hairy … desperation. He was still in his briefs, but he rolled the waistband down and the legs up to fashion a hideous bikini bottom.

It was pathetic and frightening and made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. I almost refused to accept the money in his outstretched hands. But fear of failing my duty trumped my fear of him.

I told my parents about it. They told me to pay him no attention, he was harmless. My brothers made some wisecracks about “The Underwear Salesman.”

The next week, I took a girlfriend with me. At first she hesitated to come along. Whether it was because she had better things to do on a Friday night, or she was just as worried as I, I cannot recall.

That time, he did not come to the door. Instead, he hollered, “Come in!”

Janet and I conferred outside his door. “Don’t do it!” she hissed. She turned to go back down the stairs.

“Wait!” I pleaded.

She stopped. I opened the door, and called out, “Hello? Mr. BVD?”

“The money is on the kitchen table.”

There it was, three steps inside the door. I held my breath, grabbed the pile of change, and bolted.

There was no “next time”. He either moved out or died.

Perhaps he was ill with dementia. Maybe he was arrested! I don’t know.

I do know that this story exemplifies perhaps one of the first times I let myself down. Because there was no protest, his bad behaviour was reinforced.

I suppressed my discomfort. Why? Because, I was good girl! Adults are safe and will do the right thing! I had an obligation to the newspaper company!

Was I that naïve? Yes, I was. I had very little understanding of sexuality in the first place and even less of sexual abuse. Of course I had heard of “dirty old men” but didn’t connect the dots to Mr. BVD. My parents’ “he’s harmless” answer made me think that I was over-reacting.

On the scale of perversion and sexual abuse, Mr. BVD with his naughty boy act is almost laughable. I even hesitate to call it “abuse”. The greater harm done in this scenario, I think, was when I did not listen to my inner guide.

 ***   ***   ***   ***   ***   ***

I have illustrated this story with Google Streetview images. What a transformation!

The old stately neighbourhood has been gentrified.

The commercial section, on the opposite side of the block has also undergone a change, but in typical, large urban center fashion:

king a

I don’t recognize the building that housed the yippy dog. It may have been torn down.

The nursing home where my grandma stayed has been transformed into bar, “Club Abstract”. One of the real estate offices is a finance store  featuring easy loans “Astral Finance, Inc.” with the words “The Mortgage Store” cut out of card stock and glued to the window. 


The variety store where I used to buy my candy now offers “Oriental” Massage.


The underwear salesman’s building still stands on the corner, and houses a sleep clinic. It is one of the better kept buildings of the entire block.



Categories: Personal Growth, Work, work, work

Tags: ,

36 replies

  1. i sometimes wonder about our parents’ generation. Were they naive or was it some kind of denial. i am so sorry that happened to you but I love how it helped you learn to honor your inner voice/guide. =)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Debra – thanks for reading and commenting.
      I’ve wondered, too, about my parents’ response. I don’t think they had the resources: the vocabulary, the time, the energy. So yeah, naive and in denial. Wouldn’t happen today – I don’t think that there are many carriers these days younger than 16 that are not escorted.

      There were other times when I felt let down, in hindsight that is. For example, I told them that I was being bullied by a couple of boys when I was seven or eight. Punks followed me home and tormented me. If I changed my route, they’d follow. I told my folks… and nothing. The lesson being… what? What do you take from that? I recall being let down, that’s for certain. I’m sure on some level I felt that I wasn’t worthy of protection.


  2. You learned from the experience and that’s the main thing.


  3. So interesting to me that you didn’t complain. I was the same with a ‘friend’ of my parents, who came to take me out ‘to chat’ when I was at art school!


  4. Wow! Truly a cautionary tale! Funny and truly creepy at the same time.


  5. I don’t really like the story, Maggie, but I like your writing of it with your … ‘this is the moral’ ending. Lord only knows how many little girls have had this kind of thing happen to them; but I fear that many wouldn’t even remember it.


  6. “…that was off-putting” You’ve mastered understatement… (or underwearstatement) Really good story and told well! Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I wonder sometimes if every small town back then had a creep or two. I am sorry that happened to you. I remember a couple similar incidents and you never forget them. Once my parents and neighbors did force a guy out of the ‘hood, but we kids were also left to fend for ourselves against the school bullies. Different times back then.

    Yucky story, but you told it very well.


  8. I could not begin to even guess where you were going with this. Really stunned. This makes the forced to eat peas story pale in judgment comparison. Thanks for posting this!


    • Thanks Stephanie. I felt kind of sheepish about posting this story. Yes, it was a defining event, and I’m “over” it as far as lingering emotional upset with BVD and my parents’ response. But, when I compare this to what others have endured? Pfft – a hangnail in the spectrum of harm that befalls children.


  9. Oh my God, how very scary, Maggie; I really felt the creeping weirdness and threat of it all. Poor you. Brilliant post! xxx


  10. ‘Adults are safe and will do the right thing!’ You weren’t alone in that. I don’t think it was naivete or denial, exactly. It was a different age. Abuse was something that happened to other people, and therefore didn’t merit discussion.
    When I was 9, I found myself in the front seat of a taxi (aunt and 2 sisters in the back) jammed between suitcases against the door on one side and the taxi driver on the other. He spent the trip running his hand up – and up – my thigh. It was…awful. I looked to my aunt for help, but she couldn’t see what he was up to, and I couldn’t tell her. These days, a kid would scream blue murder, but it hadn’t even occurred to my aunt that the seating arrangement was less than ideal.


  11. Hi Helen – thanks for telling me your story. It actually is some comfort to think that my parents were not negligent – more likely uninformed.


  12. Interesting thoughts and story Maggie. I suspect that those of us of a certain generation and older -say early40s+ often encountered similar sentiments and bald dismissals. Coupled with the fact sexuality and sexually deviant behaviors were shrouded in a veil of secrecy – with deep connotations of sin and wrong-doing – often aimed at the targeted victims – mostly girls – and it’s no wonder there seems to be a generation of women who still don’t want or know how best to trust their instincts and unwilling to speak out for fear of being dismissed as being “unknowing.”

    Thanks for sharing this story – and no, it’s not silly or ridiculous. Often it’s all the small battles – fought in the most intimate of “safe” places, like homes, kitchens, parks, playgrounds and bedrooms, that cause the most memorable “damage” and linger for long times in our memories Maggie.


    • Hello Patricia. I thank you very much for your thoughtful comment. The second paragraph, particularly is very helpful to read.


      • I’m glad that you found some food for thought in there Maggie – often when we have the chance and courage to share our truest ideas and personal understandings we can help others, in some small way. And I think this is what it’s all about.

        Hope you have a super weekend 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  13. You got that right, Jenni!


  14. Wow! – on so many levels. I echo many of the comments already made.
    There are so many instances where I too wished that I had had the courage to stand up for myself – none of them as dramatic as this story.


    • Thanks, Joanne. So much involved in that standing up business. Awareness, vocabulary, experience, understanding. It’s funny. As I write this, it is with you in mind as I offer you some allowance about past events. OK, that’s not the funny part. 🙂 The “funny” part is that I don’t allow myself the same growing time. Growing up is hard!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. I am sorry it happened, but impressed by your personal resources and strength. Look what you did, on your own. You went to your parents, which took a great deal of courage, at that time. When they failed you, you were smart enough to ask your friend to go with you–and brave enough to go back! And when she tried to leave you there, you made her stay.

    Good job, younger Maggie!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I feel torn between hollering at your parents for blowing off the BVD guy, and appreciating that they made it as low key for you as absolutely possible.

    What happened sure was a big deal. I am glad that you shone the light on this memory so it could shrivel up and roll away like dust.


    • Thanks, Grace! I don’t think I’ve strayed too far from the “hollering at my parents” POV. Of course, mom and dad very well may have applied the low key approach. I either don’t have the imagination to consider it, or I don’t WANT to consider it. Still a tiny bit bitter about it all.



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