2 Cream-Tops and 2 Red

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.

Dave Thomas
February 24, 2017





We got a notice in the mail that the El Cajon City Planning Commission would soon hold a meeting to determine if they should allow a 7-11 Convenience Store on property adjacent to our neighborhood. This was in the mid-to-late 1960’s and we were living in a development known as Olive Hills Estates. The houses were nice, modern homes but certainly not “estates.

We considered the notice and talked about it and came up with two objections. We had noticed that in neighborhoods with 7-11’s or mom and pop grocery stores there was a lot of trash scattered up the block. It was all candy bar wrapper, soda cups, and aluminum soda cans that kids cast off as they wandered up the street.

The second problem would be the traffic consideration. The driveway for the 7-11 would be accessed from Greenfield Drive, a busy street.

Pat and I went to the hearing and both spoke our piece. Our eloquence was for nothing, as the Planning Commission voted to allow the granting of the permits to build the store. We got the impression that they were more interested in the tax revenues than they were in our efforts to keep our yard clean.

Time passed and a strip mall was built, anchored by the 7-11. It wasn’t really that bad. The neighborhood kids were good about not stringing trash up and down the block. The 7-11 was operated by a man named Bertolucci. I don’t know if he was the franchisee or a paid manager. He was probably in his late 40’s or early 50’s and was one of those red-haired Italians with a ruddy complexion. He always had a smile and was liked by all ages. The kids called him “Mr. Bert” and I think he knew every kid in the neighborhood by name.

Back in those days, the neighborhoods of the city were pretty safe. Even though our kids were young, we allowed them to make the one block trek to the store. We had to approve each trip but they were allowed to enjoy a Slurpee now and then.

One Saturday morning, Pat and I were going someplace with the kids and stopped at 7-Eleven to pick up some snacks. Mr. Bert greeted us and then asked if he could speak to Pat and I privately. He ushered us to a corner and then started telling us about soda pop bottles and how they were returned for a refund of the bottle deposit. He said that the empty bottles were stored out in back of the building until the distributors picked them up and returned them to the bottling plant. He said that our daughter, Terri, then 6 or 7 years old, would stop in the alley and pick up as many bottles as she could carry and then go around to the front door and go in and collect the deposit money for them. Then, she would use her earnings to buy a Slurpee. Bertolucci said he knew what she was doing and didn’t mind because she was a nice kid. However, the gratuities started to get out of hand. Terri was bringing a little friend with her. Then, it seemed that she was bringing the whole neighborhood with her. That’s when Mr. Bert had to put a stop to the great bottle refund enterprise and why he was talking with us. He wanted to make sure that Terri understood that what she was doing was wrong.

Later, Pat and I were alone with Terri and told her that Mr. Bert had mentioned that she was buying a lot of Slurpees and we wondered where she was getting the money. She said she had found this neat place out in the alley where there were stacks of bottles. She said she would gather enough bottles to buy a Slurpee and then go to the store and sell them. She was just as happy as if she had found buried treasure. We had to burst her bubble and tell her that those bottles in the alley already belonged to the store and that Mr. Bert was buying his own bottles from her. We went on to explain that Mr. Bert knew what she was doing but let her get away with it. Terri was mortified. She was the type of kid that always wanted to do everything right and hated to think she had made a mistake. He next time she went to the store she told Bertolucci she was sorry and we all went back to the status quo…peace in the valley.

Dave and Pat Thomas
February 23, 2017