Ode to the Milkman
“Hey, Bob, your son sort of looks like the milkman.”
Ever slow on the uptake, I was well into adulthood before I understood that joke.
I’m still not sure whether it’s funny. You be the judge.
A week or so ago, I wrote a wmdm post about Hartzler’s chocolate milk, a product that’s a real throwback to an earlier time: smooth, rich-tasting chocolate milk that hasn’t been processed and ultra-pasteurized beyond recognition and is sold in a glass bottle. In the post, I made a passing reference to the notion that, from my earliest recollections until my early teenage years, my family had a milkman who delivered milk and other dairy products to our home twice each week. I suppose I was nine or ten years old before I learned that milk could actually be purchased in a supermarket and that it didn’t have to be delivered by the milkman.
Since writing the post, I’ve thought about the subject several times.
Whatever happened to the Milkman?
Our milkman’s name was Dan. I know this because it was embroidered on his starched-and-pressed, light-blue uniform shirt. For much of the year, he was a phantom, making his deliveries after my sister and I had left for school. In the summertime, however, I saw him at least once a week. He was a big, barrel-chested man with a beard. He had an easy smile and a quick laugh. If I happened to be in the vicinity of the kitchen when he made his delivery, he never failed to ask about my summertime activities. He had a son of his own, about my age, and he’d give me a quick update on little league baseball and other goings-on in his family life.
During these quick ninety-second conversations, he deftly rotated the milk inside our refrigerator, pulling whatever milk was already there to the front, and putting that day’s delivery to the rear. Dan knew our milk consumption habits and left only the items he thought we would use before his next delivery. He knew that my mom used a lot of buttermilk, making from-scratch biscuits and/or cornbread daily, and left buttermilk alongside the whole milk. Occasionally, my mom would leave a note for some out-of-the-usual item, which Dan would quickly retrieve from his truck and leave in the fridge. He’d pick up that week’s empty bottles (remember the days of returning the empties or leaving a bottle deposit when purchasing soda?) give a quick see-you-next-time, and head back to his truck.
Since Dan made his deliveries after my parents had left for work and no one was home during the day for most of the year, he had a key to the house. Aside from an aunt who lived a few miles away, Dan was the only person outside the immediate family who ever had a key to my parents’ house.
I don’t remember exactly when or why the dairy delivery stopped during my early teen years (the early-mid 70s). I seem to recall that the dairy had begun scaling back delivery services. Perhaps my parents decided it would be cheaper to buy milk at the store or that our milk consumption level had dropped and no longer warranted delivery. After all, my sister and I were no longer the milk-guzzlers we had been as children. But for whatever reason, delivery ended. And on some level, I missed Dan.
After I had become an adult, my mom told me that she always considered dairy delivery to be a blessing. Since we lived in a rural area and the nearest point of civilization was twelve miles away, a trip to the supermarket wasn’t always convenient. The family had an account with the dairy and received a bill once a month. If money happened to be tight between paychecks, we could always get milk, butter, cottage cheese, and other dairy products and not worry about payment until the first of the month.
I know that everything in life changes. Times change. Consumer habits change. Business models change. But with an increase in the availability of other home food delivery services (Green B.E.A.N., for example), is possible that the milkman and home dairy delivery could make a return in the not-too-distant future?
Does anyone else remember the milkman and home dairy delivery? Remember when and why delivery ended? Have stories about the milkman?
Photo from Charles Dwyer via Creative Commons license.