I don’t think I have ever told you but one summer I was a milkman or, more correctly, a junior milkman. I was 11 and would be 12 in August so that makes it 1948. Boy, that sounds like a long time ago. This was in Augusta, Kansas, a small town of about 5,000 people. I think there were only 2 men delivering milk in town at that time. Charlie Fennell was the milkman for Meadow Gold milk and he is the one I worked for. I guess I had known Charlie all my life and he was almost a relative. I first knew him as Jane Guest’s boyfriend. During WWII, the Guests lived two doors south of us. The Mom, Martha “Mattie” (Wright) Guest was the sister of my great-aunt, Rachel (Wright) Peebler. During the war, Jane would always tell us when she got letters from Charlie. Of course, the ending of the war was a great relief for Jane and she and Charlie got married soon after he returned home.
The other milkman in town was Clare Patterson. Clare was a nice-looking man, probably in his forties at the time, and had a black patch over one eye. I don’t think I ever knew how he lost that eye but that patch made him look like an adventurous soul. Clare ran Patterson Dairy and as I recall, did all the delivering himself. As a side note, Clare had a sister named Lovey Patterson who married one of the Boucher men. I didn’t know her but always thought that “Lovey” was a neat name for a girl.
Charlie and Jane lived in the last block of Clark Street, on the south side of the street. Behind their home, Charlie had his milk house that could be entered from the alley. The milk house was a small, one room building. I can’t remember if it was an old Model T garage that had been converted, an old smoke-house that had been converted, or if it had been built specifically to be a milk house. At any rate, it was well insulated and had an air conditioner to keep it cold. The big truck from the Meadow Gold plant would come down the alley on a regular schedule and off-load Charlie’s stock.
As I recall, we started making deliveries at 6:00 AM. I enjoyed the morning walk to Charlie’s house. The sun was up but it was still cool and the air was fresh and sweet. It smelled especially good if I passed a yard that had just been mowed the day before.
Getting down to business, we delivered all the products that Meadow Gold offered. I don’t remember them all, but there was regular milk, homogenized milk, chocolate milk, buttermilk, cream, whipping cream, ice cream, and butter. Milk came in glass bottles back then. There were no waxed cartons or plastic jugs like we have now. The milk was in quart bottles and the cream came in pints. The bottles were sealed with a cardboard disc that had a pull-tab attached to it. I think the lettering on the cap or disc was a different color for the different products. A white cap was for regular milk which was also known as “cream-top”. In regular milk, the cream separated from the milk and rose to the top of the bottle so the top 2 or 3 inches of the neck was cream. A red cap was for homogenized milk. The milk and cream had been mixed or blended and the cream remained in suspension making the product a lot richer and more pleasing than plain old skim milk.
Charlie had a route book that served as a road map for the day. It had a page for every customer and gave all the necessary information about them including the days they wanted delivery and what their standard order was. As we drove down the street, Charlie would turn the page as we got to each house and sing out their order…”2 cream-top and 2 red” he might say. Or, it might be “1 red and 1 butter’. Whatever the call, I’d get the items and run for the front porch. Whatever empty bottles they had would be setting beside the front door and I would grab those empties and leave today’s order. As I learned the job we got a routine going and the route got a little smoother and a little faster. Charlie’s way of going was so quiet and steady it was easy to work for him.
Elderly people and crippled people were treated as such. Charlie personally took care of them.. Due to prior agreement he would let himself in and head for the kitchen. As he placed the fresh dairy products in the refrigerator and picked up the empties off the cabinet, he was chatting with the people, looking them over, and asking if they needed anything. Quite often, Charlie invited me to go in with him and say hello. I didn’t realize it at the time but I was learning lessons in respect and being mindful of the needs of others.
It was a good summer and I learned a lot about working and being a decent person. After the summer was over I went back t school and Charlie kept doing what he was doing. He was a regular guy with the work ethic and values of the time. Working for him was worth a lot more than the spending money I earned.
February 24, 2017