By Matt Cutugno
Indio, CA, USA
My maternal grandfather was a huckster. I must explain.
The word nowadays carries the negative connotation of one who promotes through devious methods, as in "that used car salesman was a real huckster," but originally it implied no such thing. A huckster was a man from whom one bought produce as he moved about a neighborhood in a horse-drawn or mechanical conveyance. The word originated harmlessly enough from Middle Dutch hokester, that is, "peddler."
And so Edward Sargeant, my grandfather, was a huckster. He drove a 1929 Ford truck, a bit of a jalopy, and plied his wares through the side streets of Flint, Michigan. That town, then as now, was essential to the auto industry. In fact, Chevrolet's first manufacturing facility was located there and, for a brief period, all Chevrolets and Buicks were built in Flint. Naturally, that made it the largest employer in town. All of Edward's children—my mother and my aunts and uncles, worked for the auto industry at one time or another.
Why then, was Edward a huckster? That story began one day when he was out rabbit hunting in rural Michigan with a friend. He wound up getting shot in his right arm by his fellow hunter who (apparently) mistook him for a rabbit amidst the thicket. The pellets of buckshot and the subsequent infection left his arm withered and useless. Eventually it was removed from the elbow down, leaving him a one-armed cripple.
Edward Sargeant as
a young man
Fate was not finished with Edward. Some two years later, he was working with his sons Earl and Virgil in the backyard of their home on South Saginaw Street. The patriarch was hammering away when he miss-struck a nail and it flew up and hit him in his left eye. The damage was bad enough for him to lose his vision.
Mr. Sargeant was then one-armed and one-eyed and he never got a job on an auto industry assembly line. By this time, his wife had passed at a young age from complications following a burst appendix. My mother, Marie, was only seven years old, and she had five other siblings.
Hence, in order to provide for his family, my grandfather took his beat-up truck and became a huckster. He was a good natured, smiling sort, despite his maladies and so neighbors liked him and bought their sundries from him. The neighborhood children particularly took to him because he would scare them giddy with his withered arm and roaming eye and ready laugh. It was like Halloween every day along the route of the huckster.
Life takes from us, doesn't it? A bit at a time, as the years unfold, we are less and less able, further and further away from our best. Life took from Edward Sargeant a body part at a time, and he kept going, steering his Ford with one hand, peering around corners with a single eye.
After all, he had a family to support.
Aunt Elaine's ID
Edward Sargeant - One arm, One eye