My father went to work 6205 days in a row, give or take a few, from 1945 until 1962. Until I was 16 and my cousin, Jackie, 18 or 19. We were both old enough to drive the milk truck then and we knew his routes, since we’d been (I speak for myself) half-assed helpers of his. So he took his first vacation in 17 years. He and my mother went away and my cousin and I delivered the milk for a week. As far as I know, no baby died for lack of it: we made the rounds, Jackie and I, up and down the streets of our small town — Elm and Cottage and Clark — during the summer of 1962.
My father divided his customers into two routes, one Monday and Wednesday and Friday and the other Tuesday and Thursday. On Saturdays he did both. On Sundays he delivered to three or four stores. He slept in a bit on Sundays, but he still shaped up for work. My mother worked too, full-time, as a telephone operator, as well as acting as primary caretaker of her aging and increasingly ill mother, my grandmother, with whom we lived, on the family farm. My grandfather, the last lifelong farmer in the family, died when I was three. My uncle (mother’s side) milked the cows. My father delivered the milk. The point is: they went to work. You did this: you went to work. Glad to have a job — they went through the Depression, and then, right on its back, came WWII. You go to work: that’s a great lesson, for which I am grateful.
My father liked his job. He was, essentially, his own boss. He loaded his truck in the morning and came back with empty bottles at night. Sometimes, when I was in grade school, he’d drive by when we were out for recess or at lunch. That filled me with joy. I helped him on Saturdays, his double route. He’d pick me up about 10:30, letting me sleep late. I learned useful things working with him. One: how to drive a truck, which, after I graduated from college, I did for a while to earn a living. And two: a sense of balance. I could stand next to him (large front cab to allow easy and continuous exit and entry) and, without holding on to anything, not lose my balance as he went around corners, stopped quickly, etc. I can ride New York subways without holding a pole — an urban kind of surfing.
People paid for their milk with little blue tickets. They’d leave him money, he’d leave the blue tickets, then they’d give him back the tickets for milk. He carried a little sack of the cash — maybe $20–$30 in bills and another 20 in change. For this sack of change, which he hung up in the laundry room off the kitchen after work, I am also grateful. In my teen years I’d clip a buck or so in dimes and quarters for a few gallons of gas with which to cruise with my pals in their parents’ or my parents’ car. My bet is he knew I was skimming now and then from the family business — I think he could tell by the heft of it just how much change was in his little sack. Good trick (let them think they’re getting away with something when they aren’t) to use on kids, Pop, thanks. I use the same trick on your granddaughter. And I taught her the one song you taught me: “Oh the monkey chased his tail around the flagpole” — one line, over and over. That fills us both with joy. Thank you, Father, your genius is your heart, and you taught me more than you knew.
This article is part of the Father's Day issue. To read additional articles from this issue, click here.