Sunday, August 21, 2016

Got Milk? When The Answer Was Always YES.

It may be hard for younger people to fathom why there ever was a time that milk and other dairy products were actually delivered right to your door, by a cheerful deliveryman—often wearing a uniform.

In fact, milk delivery was an old tradition that goes back to the days that local dairy farmers delivered their products locally by horse-drawn wagons. Deliveries were usually frequent and regular, since there was no way to keep the milk cold in storage for long. Later, when iceboxes became more common in homes, dairy farmers continued to deliver their products, along with the ice man and the coal truck.

Here in Akron, we had local dairies like Akron Pure Milk Company, Kesselring and Reiter & Harter—not to mention branches of larger dairies like Borden and Sealtest. Their handsome trucks plied through our neighborhoods, dropping milk and other dairy goods off to homes, usually depositing the glass jugs inside insulated aluminum boxes at the back door. Some people even had a special storage box built into their homes, with an access door in the outside for the milkman and another door on the inside so the homeowner could retrieve their milk.

Just leave the milk in this box. On the back porch.
Convenience was a factor, for sure; but milk and eggs were available at the grocery. So why have them delivered?

Well, you have to remember that in the pre-suburban age, most American neighborhoods were walkable, and most every neighborhood had one more or more grocery stores. In addition, it was not uncommon for women born before or during The Depression to have never learned how to drive. My mother was born in 1921; she and a few of her sisters never had a drivers license—it wasn’t that unusual.

That usually meant walking to the store, maybe with one or more children in tow. That also meant more frequent trips, rather than the weekend “load up” that’s so common in our own time.

Here’s the reality: Eggs are fragile. Glass bottles of milk are breakable. And more importantly—VERY HEAVY. Better not to lug that stuff home – just have the milkman drop it off every few days.

That's what I'm talkin' about. Milk. PURE milk from real COWS- none of this Almond-milk crap.
Even in 1962, well after Americans had started making the move to the suburbs, the Department of Agriculture reported that almost one third of homes were still having milk delivered. By 1975, that number had dropped below 7%. As time went on, almost everyone drove a car, and some families had more than one. Weekly expeditions to the local supermarket became the norm. Dairies found it hard to justify the extra cost of home delivery, and most consumers just didn’t require it anymore.

At the home where I grew up, the Reiter & Harter All Star Dairy delivery man showed up at least a couple of times a week, in his yellow truck, dropping off glass half-gallon jugs of whole milk and sometimes fruit juice, too.

What red blooded American kid wouldn't want his own toy milk truck?
This went on up until the late 1960’s. I’m not sure if we cancelled delivery, or if the dairy just ended the service on their own.

It didn’t matter. By that time, I was supposedly “diagnosed” as being somewhat allergic to cow’s milk, so I had to hike down to the Acme at Six Corners once a week to retrieve the two quarts of goat’s milk they kept on order in the back cooler for me. As a kid, it was kinda neat, being able to go in the back of the store, open the big walk-in storage cooler and retrieve MY milk.

I can still remember sauntering up to the check-out counter, with an air of self-satisfaction:

Yes. I see you looking, there. You’re probably thinking – “where did you get that goat’s milk?” I got it in the back of the store. They keep it special. Just for me—in these colorful little quart cartons. It’s delicious. It tastes a lot better than your common cow’s milk, too…

After a few years of this, my mother decided that the novelty had worn off and that I could survive (like the rest of our family) on 2% regular milk, which is what I have been drinking for the last 40+ years.

Akron. Pure. Milk. Delivered right to your door. Sounds pretty good to me.
Of course, with today’s focus on locally-sourced food, I have to wonder how long before we might see local milk delivery again. I mean, we make honey in Akron, and croissants, and hot sauce, and all kinds of tasty stuff. Today, timely delivery of just about anything you want is a phone app away. In some places, regular milk delivery is already a thing again.

But while I’d trust a drone to deliver a bag of Cheetos, I’m not so sure I want one toting heavy jugs of milk over my house.

Give me the guy in the uniform.


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