Love that Rat Pack-era music. The only better sound is Doo Wop. Last night, Tony Bennett’s “Lullaby of Broadway” streamed from my boyfriend’s laptop … The milkman’s on his way. Wow, that’s something that doesn’t happen anymore, I said out loud, sparking a conversation about home deliveries in the good old days.
Sure, we now have more packages delivered to our doorsteps than ever, thanks to ebay and other online purchasing, but raise your hand if you know who put them there.
In the small Pennsylvania town where I grew up, a familiar cast of characters regularly showed up on our porch, occasionally opening the unlocked screen door and hollering for my mother if she didn’t answer their knocks right away. We got to know them all. Our milkman was Mr. Cordell, who deposited bottles of Sealtest milk in an aluminum box by the front door, often while we were sleeping. On frigid winter mornings, the cream on top would expand and pop open the cardboard lids.
Our milk truck looked like this, and so did our neighborhood.
As late as the 1950s, horse-drawn wagons carried Abbott’s Dairies products through the narrow streets of my grandmother’s South Philadelphia neighborhood. I recall my grandmother standing on the curb in front of her rowhouse purchasing milk and eggs, and honestly, I believe even scrapple, from the driver. Yummy breakfasts on those days!
Familiar scene in Philadelphia and the Jersey Shore, thanks to Temple University Libraries
Our breadman was Mr. Pechart, who drove a big truck full of Valley Pride Bakery products around town. Most Saturdays, Mr. Tedrick from Charles Chips came by selling potato chips and pretzels to refill cans like these:
We used them to store all kinds of snacks for years after the deliveries stopped, even when the cans became dented and the lids stuck. I’m hoping one of my brothers still has them.
If no one was home, Mr. Washabaugh, driver for Modern Dry Cleaners, would hang our clean and pressed laundry between our two front doors and pick up dirty clothes that we would leave in the same spot. Generally someone was around to chat, as we did with all our regular deliverymen, who were all men back then, come to think of it. I don’t remember names of guys who sold vacuum cleaners and encyclopedias, but they showed up pretty often, too.
In today’s throwaway society, folks rarely fix broken TVs. Not so in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Our television repairman was Mr. Dittman, who patiently put up with my brothers and me gaping over his shoulders at the tubes, bulbs and wires he tinkered with. And often soon after he left, the picture started to roll again. Remember that? Three channels, no remote, rolling horizontal lines.
And the most flamboyant, the Fuller Brush man! Mr. Rensch would burst into our living room with a “Hi, Little Lady,” as he patted me on the head. Next thing we knew brushes, mops, containers and numerous gadgets were displayed on every flat surface in sight. Fast forward several years when I interviewed him for the local newspaper. My column started with something like, “Now I’m ringing his doorbell.”
Red Skelton parodies a Fuller Brush man in a 1948 film:
Our family physician, Dr. Bender, routinely made house calls, no matter how minor the ailment—such as when one of my brothers just didn’t feel like going to school. He still recalls Dr. Bender’s knowing wink.
Thanks to the U.S. Postal Service, most people still have neighborhood mail delivery. I appreciate the greetings and waves from the carriers who stop their vehicles at the mailbox at the end of my driveway. But that anticipation pales compared to the memory of sitting on my porch step watching for the mailman to ‘round the corner, hopefully with a letter for me in the pouch on his back.