When I was a kid I used to love that first week of summer vacation. It was the best of all the weeks of the year. Even though I missed my friends at school and my friends on the bus there were things that I only got to experience fully during that first few days of summer vacation and that made that week so special.
We lived at the top of a long hill. Even most of the back yard was downhill. Down the hill from us on the other side of the house, was a barn full of smallish wooden crates (that we used to play in even though we were told repeatedly not to) and a small room where powdered chemicals in big paper bags were stored until they were needed to spray the fruit trees. That room had a very distinctive smell that I can still recall all these years later. But, I digress…continuing downhill were a cold-storage, various outbuildings, a church, a very small community library, several homes, another fruit farm with a barn and cold-storage, etc., and other homes and buildings and land and a small road before the main road about two miles away where the land flattened out for a while before going back uphill again.
We had single-pane, single-hung windows in our old farmhouse. That meant that in the winter, as often as not, I’d wake up to snow on the foot of my bed. We had a coal fed hot water furnace. Every night just before going to bed, Grandpa would “bank” the fire so that there would be hot coals in the morning to quickly start a new fire in the furnace. So, while it meant that the house got warm faster in the morning, it meant that the house, and the radiators, got really cold during the night. As I understand it, “banking the fire” meant that he would keep less oxygen from reaching the fuel supply (coal) either by partially covering the coals with ash or by adjusting the flue grates or maybe it was a combination of both. Now that it’s far too late, I wish I’d asked him about that. Grandpa would get up at 5:00 A.M. (at least that’s what I thought, but to be fair to him, it could have been three in the morning for all I knew) to go down into the basement and fuel up the furnace so that the radiators would feel warm to the touch by the time I got up. Even though the air would still often be frigid, at least I could sit on the radiators and put my clothes on them so that when I got dressed, the clothes were warm. It also meant that when I got out of bed I would need to brush the snow off of the bed so that it couldn’t melt on my bed and get it wet all the way through to the mattress because that would still be wet when the house went cold again. I think I was about twelve when we got the gas furnace and the days of coal were done. I remember how luxurious it felt at first to have warmth all the time, and then I missed the cold while I slept. And now, I find myself returning to my childhood roots by going into a spare bedroom and closing the door on those cold winter nights and opening a window a crack and snuggling down into a ton of blankets and sleeping in there. I love being all burrowed into a pile of warm blankets and quilts with cold air in my face. I sleep the deep sleep of youth without a care in the world. It is such a restful and wonderful slumber.
During warm weather, I would slide the bottom pane up and insert a wood-framed metal screen in, the screen would adjust side-to-side to fit the opening and the window sash would come down to hold the screen in place. This allowed me to let in the fresh air while keeping out the bugs. My bedroom was on the second story in the southeast corner of the house. One window was over the front porch roof and faced the road, the other faced east and was a long drop to the ground. My bed was against the wall so that I looked out the east window and it was the one that was usually open when the weather allowed. Just down the hill between my room and the storage was a beautiful old Russian Olive tree. It had long, silvery green leaves, tiny black berries in summer but in the spring, and during that first week of summer vacation, it had flower blossoms.
On summer vacation, those first few mornings when I was allowed to wake up on my own, I can still remember coming back to consciousness, s-l-o-w-l-y. First, was the awareness of light on the other side of my eyelids; then the awareness that the light was warm and that the warmth was on my nose, my lips, the mountain fold where my lips meet my facial skin; my cheeks; the valley hollow where my cheek skin transitions toward the rim of my lower eyelids. Then as my awareness expands the light and its warmth is also brushing against my forearms, right calf and foot. My toes wiggle in delight of the warmth and freedom inviting the toes of my left foot to join them.
As I continue to wake, along with the warmth of the sun against my skin comes the further awareness of a coolness brushing along my skin here-and-there as if under the control of a master water-colorist whose light touch flits across the surface, and with it comes the most delicious aroma as the sense of smell awakens…that wonderful scent of the Russian Olive tree that to this day I still remember with great love.
Immediately upon that realization comes the sense of hearing waking up as I hear the bees buzzing, the birds singing their greeting into the morning, a tractor in the distance roars into life and there, in the distance, a sound I realize I am very happy to hear. It is a spluttering, chugging, purring sort of sound…the milk truck! Oh wow! The milk truck was coming! Back in those days, our milk was delivered by the milkman. Yes, seriously. As an adult, I learned that my babysitter had been, of all people, the milkman’s wife. Yes, I know that would be amazing fodder for Whoopi Goldberg and I am sure I would love to hear what she would/could do with all that. I am not a comedienne so anyone reading this who knows Whoopi, feel free to send her a link to this blog post, I’ll be happy to sign a release for her to use the info. But, for the time being, I am simply going to share the lighter, sweeter side of the milk man’s tale. On our ample front porch (which ran across the entire front of the house) was a silver box, not noticeable from the road because of the bushes that grew in front of the porch. This silver box, well, more accurately perhaps, I should call it a metallic box because it was dull silvery color, because then, as now, silver wasn’t cheap. It was, most likely tin. So, our silvery tin box was insulated, and the milkman would put our order in there so it would stay ‘fresh’ until someone could bring it into the house and fridge a.s.a.p.
As I lay there, still with my eyes closed, I heard the truck come to a stop, the brakes made a squealing noise, there was a thumpety-thump-thump as the milk man exited the truck, and then his whistling, and then the sound of the back door of the truck sliding open the clinking of glass, then the clinking and jangling of glass against metal as he walked, whistling a tune and the thumpety -thump-thump-thump up our four steps and more jingling-jangling as he took the empty bottles out of our milk-box and put the full ones in, then the same sounds in reverse as he left, all the while whistling.
Whistling! And not just random whistle sounds, either…songs! Melodies and harmonies and stuff you could’ve sung along with. Whistling while he worked! The whole time! Everyday! I never heard any other grownups whistle while they worked. Ever! Much less every day. Well, except Cinderella and even though I was a kid I knew she wasn’t real. The milkman must be the happiest person on the whole earth! And being a milkman must be the best job on the whole earth! When I grew up, I was going to be the first milk-woman in the world.
I couldn’t wait to get up and run downstairs to see what goodies were in that box! Milk for sure – for cereal and cooking. Usually there would also be eggs and butter, and cream for coffee. Sometimes there would be orange juice and whipping cream or even ice cream when they knew I would be awake to bring it in right away. Such great times.
Well, I never drove a milk truck, but I have done some jobs that I really loved and if I’d ever mastered the art of whistling a tune, there are some that I certainly would’ve whistled through all day long. And as unbelievable as it may be, one of my very favorite was literally shoveling sh**. Yes, I did a stint as a stable hand and that meant cleaning (such a ladylike term for using a pitchfork to pick up) horse dung and wet spots out of the sawdust in the stalls. I loved the animals and I loved giving those magnificent beasts a clean place to live, eat and sleep. Most of them were very appreciative. I loved them all.
I don’t know who this fellow is, this is a photo off the World Wide Web,not one representing my particular milk man or the dairy that was local to us.