Monday, September 29, 2008

The Last Milkman

We have the last Milkman! Darrell has been our Milkman for 22 years now and when he retires… well, it will be a sad, sad day and our front door entrance will never be the same. The old metal milk locker will remain empty, and let’s face it… all will not be right with the world!

This entry sat on my desktop for weeks, then months, waiting for the words to come to tell a special story about someone that brought routine, dependability and a sense of stability to our family home. It was more than the familiar sound of the noisy Jersey Crown Dairy truck approaching our neighborhood with the talk radio blaring through crackling speakers or the familiar thud of the milk locker closing followed by a rap on the front door. Or the fact that no matter what conditions arose, the pouring rain, sweltering heat or broken down trucks, the milk delivery continued every Tuesday and Friday with endless reliability in an unreliable world. The paragraph just sat there waiting for my story to form and as it sat, a certain chain of events took place as my mind stayed open to what I was about to write.

When our triplet babies were a year old, the massive formula deliveries changed to a milk order of 7 gallons a week! It was difficult at best to get out to the store to shop for all of the needs that a family that had just doubled in size over night would need. Milk delivery was the saving grace!

The children grew and the free rides that were offered by Darrell on the milk truck were anticipated with excitement by little ones playing outside. Screams of delight were heard as the truck pulled into our street.

Years rolled along peppered with little notes, “no milk today – thanx” or “extra carton of nonfat - today only – thanx.” “Please add 1 Qt. Buttermilk – thanx.”

Each November brought the annual one-inch strip of paper on which the words were typed: “Egg Nog will be available for the Holidays”. Somehow, that little note became the official beginning of the mood that surrounds getting our home ready for Christmas festivities and good times to be had by all.

Conversations with Darrell cemented a bond and respect for his pride in his family. Father of seven children and responsibilities taken on of raising a grandchild as well, were explained as I shared some of our own family circumstances over time. I even had come to love his wife even though I had never met her. My mind created a fuzzy picture of her stamping each envelope and balancing the books by hand all the while lovingly supporting her husband’s efforts to keep the high integrity of their business intact.

The years rapidly brought changes… a divorce, my oldest son moving out and my remarriage quickly followed by a move across town to a smaller house. Darrell came along! These events would change the standing order but we kept the Tuesday and Friday delivery schedule. My daughter expressed that Darrell’s unfaltering milk deliveries gave her the continuity she craved during this time of many changes and disruption in routine!

The notes became more personal over time, “No milk today – visiting colleges – thanx.”
Soon after he left a note that, he would miss a Friday delivery with an explanation included, “so that I could have a long weekend to travel back east to see my son graduate from the military academy”. The next week, Darrell came into our living room to recount the events of this trip of a lifetime. Did I mention that he was beaming with pride?

The triplets moved out and our order dwindled so I added yogurt to the standing order to try to make the delivery worth Darrel’s efforts.

Summertime brought the first notice that milk day, Friday, brought no milk! The next morning his truck pulled up to the curb but someone else was walking the cartons up to the front porch. I looked out and saw Darrell leaning over the steering wheel watching to see that the delivery process was completed correctly. I presumed that this was his grandson “helping out”. “He going to be alright?” I asked the boy expressing more than just passing concern. “He just needs some rest,” the boy replied.

Weeks later, my husband was out of town when I realized we hadn’t gotten the milk in from the day before. Off to the milk locker to check the status and condition of what had been left only to find the milk locker empty. My mind was quickly forming an explanation that this was bound to happen from time to time, that Darrell will do his best and that we would adjust to whatever this new routine needed to be.

On Friday that week, I checked for milk and saw the locker once again empty slapping me with the cruel reality that Darrell may not be back. My heart sank. I was sure that the family was fielding many calls and that whatever had occurred, difficulties had arisen, so I chose not to call knowing that the bill at the end of the month would contain an explanation. News that Darrell was having health Problems filtered through the community and I waited…

“We’ll be fine without the milk service!” I wanted to shout out so loud he would hear. “Just take care of your self!”

Finally, the bill arrived and the anticipated letter was enclosed containing an explanation of Darrell’s sudden retirement: It was dated and the familiar greeting was followed by his own words:

“Dear Valued Customer,
It is with regret that I am informing you that I will no longer be your Milkman. Due to a problem with my neck and left arm, I will be having surgery and physical therapy. When I am healed, I won’t be able to make deliveries as I have in the past. Unfortunately, there are no other milkmen in the area to take over, so I am shutting the route down.”

“This milk route has been my livelihood for more than 28 years. You are more than just customers to me. I will miss being your milkman.”

The PS on the note read, “After I’m feeling better, I’ll come by and keep in touch”

I opened the envelope and read it aloud to my husband. As I choked back a sob, I looked up and noticed tears in his eyes as I finished his words, we both knew just by Darrell’s track record, how hard it must have been for him to write that note.

It is hard to believe that the hand rubberstamp addressed envelopes won’t be stacked with the bills awaiting payment, or that one-inch strip of typewritten paper will not be left to announce the official beginning of the Holiday Season… And I will never, no never forget the sound of the noisy truck approaching or the milk locker slamming followed by a rap of the door. I am so happy that my kids got to have a part of something that was only usual to the generation before, my kids got to know the last Milkman!