The simpler milk runs of yesterday

The gentle sound of glass bottles rattling against one another was more than enough alarm clock for a young boy on a warm Saturday morning. As the sound grew more audible and was joined by a truck engine’s rumble, he threw back the bed covers and slid from the sheets into a pair of worn jeans, t-shirt and Red Ball Jets sneakers.

Even from a distance of several hundred yards at the end of Warner Street, the milk truck was music to an eager boy’s ears: rhythm by the truck’s engine, percussion by the glass bottles, chorus by the chirping of birds in the early morning air.

It was down the stairs and out the back door into the early Spring air before the family was awake – well before breakfast – to meet the call of the Tenney Farms milk delivery truck and to the awaiting world of adventures.  milk bottle (2)

Charlie Facey was the affable, white-haired delivery man who had befriended the young boy and had accepted his interest in helping with the milk route. So on a brilliant Saturday morning like this in the 1960s, with the pungent smell of warm, moist earth mixing with the faint odor of sour milk, the boy clambered into the open door of the truck and set off to make the rounds.

He held on tight to the dash of the truck, the breeze blowing his hair through the truck’s door, left open to expedite the transfer of product to customer. Charlie normally handled the duties of both driver and runner, but on Saturdays there was free help in the form of an eager young boy.

This was the boy’s private version of The Boys of the Border, Robinson Crusoe and the Hardy Boys all pumped into a couple hundred bottles of bovine best; an exclusive club with membership of one that would provide him with memories he would forever cherish. This was the gift of serendipity, happiness and wonder that through happenstance had rolled to his door on four wheels carrying dairy products and over the weeks had expanded his universe exponentially in the tiny western Mass. town of Greenfield.

The boy’s job was runner, and he tackled the chore with an honest zeal that would eclipse the many jobs and careers that lay before him. This was serious business, a boy doing a man’s work, and was not to be taken lightly. He learned to listen closely, how to fill the order and make the precious transfer quickly, quietly, delivering morning goodness to the breakfast of Tenney Farms’ customers.

“Two full cream, one skim and a pint of cream,” Charlie would say, pulling to the end of the driveway of the first stop, a signal to the lad to carefully select the bottles, slip the order into the wooden-handled metal tray and make his way to the customer’s stoop. An insulated milk box waited by the door, and the boy replaced the empty bottles left in the box with the week’s supply of milk, firmly closing the lid to keep the delivery cold until the owner arose and could move them into their refrigerator.milkbox

The empties went into the back of the truck and would be returned to the dairy outside of the town center to be washed, refilled, capped and distributed on the next day’s run.

The bottle caps fascinated the boy, and he would scratch his fingernail across the embossed “Tenney Farms” logo and reflect in awe on how cool it was to be delivering milk. The caps were miniature works of art. Cardboard circles slightly over an inch in diameter – with a tiny protruding tab inviting the owner to unleash the milky bounty within – provided the seal between the warm air and the sweet milk within, offering a sacred role of safety, protection and responsibility, not unlike that of a milk delivery boy.

Years later memories of the caps would come rushing back when the boy’s own children joined in the “pog” collection fad, keeping, trading and fussing over dozens of bottle caps that some spirited entrepreneur turned into valuable treasures for child collectors. Home delivery of milk products may have been long ago discarded, but throwback collectibles apparently live on.

Greenfield slept on as the boy and man continued on their rounds, throughout Silver Acres and along Federal Street, down Wildwood Avenue and north on Bernardston Road. A loop through the Meadows would include a stop for Charlie to make a “nature call” into the woods by the side of the road, and the boy would wait, listening to the hum of the truck’s engine and the call of birds in nearby trees.

Precious few words passed between Charlie and the boy as they continued along in conjoined solitude, the tinkling of the empty glass bottles growing louder as the deliveries lightened the truck’s load.

Sometime in mid-morning, the day’s work complete, they stopped at the Echo Lunch on Route 5 in Bernardston. This was lunchtime for Charlie and payday for the boy. A coke and a hot dog – second only in deliciousness to the ones the boy would eat at Fenway Park in the years to come – would be his reward for the bottles carried, deliveries made and time spent drinking in the morning sun with a man he called friend but with whom he spoke little.

Then it was back to the boy’s home on Warner Street, where he hopped from the truck’s open door, waved to Charlie and headed into a world made far richer by a brief spell in a working man’s world.

      6 comments

      • Gail

        Loved this Skip. Greenfield was a good town to grow up in, and in some cases, to stay in. Although I don’t feel the same about it now, I still love to reminisce about my growing up years. Thanks much!

      • Barrie Evans

        Nice one Skip, it’s always good to reflect on a time when little was really important, except for the beginning of a journey into life, via a milk wagon.

      • Jack Jackson

        Superb

      • Denise

        That was awesome! I used to wait by the door for the fresh bottles from Tenney Farms. Loved to get the cream off the top. Greenfield was a great place in the 60’s.

      • Marilyn

        Skip, always enjoy reading about your adventures especially when they are the ones from my own back yard!!

      • Roger

        Just shows how small a divide ‘The Pond’ is between our United Kingdom and your US of A, Skip – I too rode our local milk cart (horsedrawn then believe it or not) in the 1950s of post-war Britain. But this was in the small town of Lancing in West Sussex, UK and I was around seven years old. The bottles were much the same as you describe and the pungency came from the occasional horse-droppings which my father urged me to collect with a coal shovel and bucket he supplied “to feed the roses son…”

        Our milkman went on to own and run a very successful roadside pub that employed his whole family for two or three generations until they were bought out for a princely sum by a steakhouse chain. That kind of enterprise has become a thing of the past – now when a child reaches fourteen he or she sets up a web company or social media site!

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