Miss­ing the fla­vor of milk­man days

Boston Herald - - NEWS - Jim SULLIVAN Jim Sullivan is a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to the Bos­ton Her­ald. Talk back at let­ter­stoed­i­tor@boston­her­ald.com.

When you reach my age — old as dirt — you’ll miss cer­tain folks who were part of your child­hood but whose jobs just don’t ex­ist any­more.

The milk­man comes im­me­di­ately to mind.

He made de­liv­er­ies to our doorstep and, on a hot sum­mer’s day, we’d beg him for a piece of the ice he used to keep the milk, but­ter, cream and eggs from go­ing bad. If he’d given ev­ery kid along his route a piece of ice, he would have needed a truck twice as big. Oc­ca­sion­ally, though, he took pity on us — and when he didn’t, we’d sneak a piece from the truck, any­way, while he was mak­ing a doorstep de­liv­ery. We could have gone in the house and had an ice cube any time we wanted, of course, but what fun was that?

Like­wise, the bak­ery truck driver who brought bread and rolls right to our door — and cakes, which our moth­ers al­most never bought, but which we fer­vently hoped they would.

Moth­ers were al­most al­ways home, by the way. For most two­par­ent fam­i­lies — and most fam­i­lies then were two-par­ent fam­i­lies — dads were the ones who went to work. Moms did laun­dry, made beds, ironed, cooked and vac­u­umed — or, if not rich enough to own a vac­uum cleaner, swept. Since one in­come was usu­ally enough then, the only time moms were out and about was to shop. Those moth­ers who worked gen­er­ally did so at night or part time. In any case, each fam­ily had only one car — if they had a car at all — so where was mom go­ing to go?

There were semireg­u­lar vis­i­tors, such as the Fuller Brush Man or Avon Lady. They’d come into the house and sit down, opening dis­play cases of in­ter­est­ing and odd goods, a wel­come di­ver­sion for stay-ath­ome moms.

On an even more ir­reg­u­lar ba­sis, the rag­man came on his horse-driven cart, yelling out “Any old rags? Any old rags to­day?” We kids dashed in­side to see if our moth­ers had any­thing to give him. I don’t know what was in it for our moth­ers, nor do I have any idea what the rag­man did with our old hole-filled stuff, but we usu­ally man­aged to get some­thing for him. If enough kids had stuff to put in his cart, he’d stop long enough for us to pet his an­cient gray horse. That was what we got out of it — and great pay­ment it was, too.

In­ter­est­ing side note: We kids knew by sound which per­son was com­ing be­fore we saw them. The milk­man’s truck had a sound dis­tinct from the baker’s truck, while the rag­man’s bell was dif­fer­ent from the bell rung by, say, the ice cream man. We also could tell, just by the sound of the mo­tor, which one of our fathers was two blocks away and headed home. That wouldn’t be pos­si­ble in the city now, of course, but there was so lit­tle traf­fic then we could dis­tin­guish still-un­seen ve­hi­cles by sound alone.

Fair warning: If you’re younger than I am — I’d say that’s at least two-to-one in your fa­vor — you’ll some­day have the same ran­dom melan­cho­lia I’ve just dis­played. If you write about it, here’s hop­ing your ed­i­tor in­dulges you as much as mine just did.

There were semireg­u­lar vis­i­tors, such as the Fuller Brush Man or Avon Lady. They’d come into the house, opening dis­play cases of in­ter­est­ing and odd goods.


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