Deliveries on Rubberneck

In the fifties and sixties, we had several companies that delivered their food products to the homes on Rubberneck Avenue.  These individuals were warmly welcomed like good friends each time their routes brought them to our homes’ porches.

Delivery days were some of the highlights of the week.  In between walking daily to the grocery store (a habit from my grandparents’ age), Mom and the other women looked forward to the weekly and semi-weekly arrivals of basic necessities: milk, bread, eggs and – in our house– the wine man.  Wine was considered one of the four food groups at our dining room table!

Milk was for the children; cereal was not considered a wholesome breakfast unless it was oatmeal or something hot.  A bowl of cold cereal was the exception, not the rule, and it had to have something more than sugar; like raisins or “toasties”, obviously another throwback from my grandparents’ down the house. So, Mom had our milk delivered by Williams Dairy.  I remember the glass bottles with cardboard stoppers, each bottle seated in its own wire cubicle within the larger metal frame baskets. We knew the day to find the delivery on the front porch; the Williams Dairy Milkman left the filled basket in one of the sheltered corners, adjacent to the front threshold and out of direct sunlight, though he arrived early enough that the sun was normally not a concern.

The bread man was a short-lived treat!  Peter Wheat Bread was an independent bread company that produced delicious bread; as a first grader, my field trip to the Peter Wheat Factory really made an impression with me! I was mesmerized by the factory machinery that delivered fresh baked loaves down the chute, and then arrived fully sliced at the end of the process, completely bagged.  We were given a slice of fresh bread to eat during the tour. I never forgot that experience, and was deeply saddened when this independent company closed its doors and the truck with the cartoonlike character disappeared.

Mom called sliced bread American bread because it was soft and cake-like; and that was the name coined by my immigrant grandparents.  Mom’s grocery list always had two bread types listed:  French (sourdough was the house bread) and American (anything sliced and for toast or sandwich use; sometimes Roman Meal, but more often Wonder.  TV’s Annie Oakley had finally convinced even our mother that Wonder Bread helped children grow.)

Industries were changing as were homes’ kitchens.  Routes were becoming short-lived.  Few deliveries continued, but the egg man and the wine man still dropped by.

The egg man was particularly fascinating; he had a hook hand.  We kids would watch in amazement as he handled the eggs, the cartons and the cash payment with aplomb.  Once, he showed us how the hook worked and spent time picking and placing objects in and out of his hand.  His smile was always warm. We being young and polite never asked how he came to have a hook for a hand.  Mom didn’t either, but my guess was that he’d suffered some type of war time injury as he was old enough to have been a WWII veteran.  His countenance and attitude were amazing!  He obviously loved kids and his work, always friendly and happy to visit with us on each delivery day.

An old Frenchman immigrant peddler sold not only wine but sausages that were exceptionally delicious! The only freezer in the house was the one in the refrigerator.  Mom kept very little in the freezer; ice cream for Daddy took up most of the space, crammed in there with the extra ice trays that she filled to make sure we had plenty of ice cubes for the drinks Daddy made on weekends and holidays. Thus, when the wine man delivered, only a couple days passed before enjoying his wares, as Mom seldom froze any meats for future use.  Mom would fix the wine sausages in her cast iron fry pan, browning them slowly and perfectly in a little bit of bacon drippings.  Boiled potatoes or some other vegetable and a tossed green salad and French bread completed the meal.

Years later, I came as close to tasting a memory as I’d ever experienced; I purchased some original style bratwurst from a local meat market here in the Midwest; the seasonings were as close to the old Frenchman’s wine sausages as anything I had found to date. What pure joy to be transported back to my mother’s kitchen table!

We grew up hearing lots of stories about our grandparents’ home, which had a still in the garage behind a hidden panel, and the customary ice box for keeping unsalted meats and just purchased vegetables “fresh”.  Always a walking source of history, Mom shared how she remembered waiting for the ice man to deliver the big chunk of ice each day, and having to regularly empty the drip tray before it overflowed onto the kitchen floor.  WHOA!  I’d read about ice boxes at school and had even seen Rockwell’s folk art depict period interiors.

So, if our mother was old enough to have used an ice box, ergo she was almost an historic figure.  I confirmed this during class assignments when, using our 1948 set of Encyclopedias for research, came across the life of William F. Cody.  I did the math and it was undeniable!  Our mother had been born five years before Buffalo Bill died!  The real Annie Oakley had lived until Mom was fourteen! Needless to say, I was in awe…