Opinion | Biff America: Full-service dairy
I think I might be mental. In the course of any given day, if I’m not reading, watching videos or having a conversation, a thought gets stuck in my head to a point where I can think of little else. That happened yesterday on a bike ride. Rather than enjoy the scenery, flowers and endorphins, I simply could not stop reminiscing about dairy delivery and the fact that the big kids said Patrick and Sean looked like their milkman.
“Patrick is the only kid in the Murphy family with red hair. You know his milkman must be a ginger.”
Or, “Sean, Father’s Day is next week. Make sure you send a card to your milkman.”
Many of you might not get those well-worn insults from days of yore, so I’ll explain.
When I was a kid, most families did not buy their dairy products in a store. Instead, a milkman would drive through your neighborhood and place milk and dairy products in an insulated box on your front steps. This would usually occur during hours when the man of the house would typically be at work. The above insult was predicated on the myth that some milkmen would deliver more than just dairy products to the waiting housewives.
When I was very young, I would laugh along with the big kids when they suggested Pat and his milkman had the same colored hair, but I really did not get it. As I got older I figured it out and decided being a milkman would be a pretty cool job.
Milk trucks were ubiquitous in the streets of my youth. Trucks would stop every 100 feet or so and the milkman would jump out of the truck with several bottles in a steel carrying case, drop the allotted amount and take the empty glass bottles away. He would then jump back in his truck and drive another couple hundred feet to the next home.
None of the trucks had refrigeration. Rather, the milk was kept cold by large chunks of ice. In my ’hood there were two milk companies, Producers Dairy and Dairy Lea. The Producers dairy guy wasn’t real friendly to us kids (not sure about his attitude toward the housewives) but the Dairy Lea guy would give us chunks of ice to suck on during hot days.
But it wasn’t only the myth that Mrs. Murphy opted for the full-service delivery that captured my thoughts on that recent bike ride. There was also the fact of how much the world has changed.
Now, most milk no longer comes in a glass bottle that is used until empty, returned, sanitized and refilled. We buy our milk — be it real, soy, rice, oat or yam — in plastic or cartons that we either toss or recycle. And, if there were still milkmen, they would be reluctant to hand out chunks of ice for kids to suck for fear that parents would sue if little Johnny got an ice-cream headache.
Also, if there still were milkmen, they would be dropping off cream to an empty house because few modern families can survive on one income. If there are stay-at-home parents, they are no longer exclusively women (which I think is a good thing).
Additionally, the mere suggestion that Sean or Patrick were fathered by a dairy deliverer would be considered, by some, insulting and not funny. But, to be clear, no one really thought that those two guys were the milkmen’s kids. The milkmen that I grew up with were always moving so fast that there would not any time for such hanky-panky.
Let me pause right there. So, on that same bike ride, when I could not stop thinking about milkmen, the phrase hanky-panky came to mind. Like the lyrics of a stupid song, I got that phrase stuck in my brain pan, wondering of its origin. It took a few miles before I was able to stop obsessing about dairy deliverers committing hanky-panky when out of nowhere came the question of why did kamikaze pilots wear helmets. No wonder my wife claims I’m often distracted.
This morning, my favorite milkman back in the day came to mind. I forget his name, but I remember he was a former high school jock who did not have the grades to get in college. I also remember his writing on the milk receipts was barley legible. He had blonde hair and blue eyes and always seemed to be talking to himself. Wait a minute!
Jeffrey Bergeron’s column “Biff America” publishes Mondays in the Summit Daily News. Bergeron has worked in TV and radio for more than 30 years, and his column can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He is the author of “Mind, Body, Soul.” Bergeron arrived in Breckenridge when there was plenty of parking and no stoplights. Contact him at email@example.com.
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