The Passing of Home Delivery

By Dorothy Dean Holman

(1895 - 1984)

[Edited by John M. Holman, Contributing Writer]

Ca. 1970's

Is home home delivery of household commodities a thing of the past? Now-a-days, except for oil deliveries and an occasional milk man, delivery men are fast disappearing from the scene.

When I was growing up, everything that was needed was brought to the door. Except for clothing, there was no need to go shopping. Besides, we had no means of transportation and stores were over a mile away from our small village home. In those days if tradesmen wanted business, they were obliged to go after it.

Our grocer came from a neighboring town twice a week, once to take Mama's order and the second time to deliver it. I remember him as a tall, thin man with white hair and beard, who spoke with the softest masculine voice I have ever heard. His name was Mr. Rice and he drove a covered-type delivery wagon drawn by a plodding white horse as slow and moderate as sits owner. Mama used to say he should throw out a log to see if he were moving (she came from a sea-faring family).

I remember one time when Mama, busy with a hundred and one duties common to mothers of large families, became confused when giving her order and said, "you can bring me a pound of rice, Mr. Lard."

Then there was the day his horse ran away. He had left her at the hitching post while in the kitchen taking Mama's order, and there came up one of those sudden thunder storms, practically out of the blue, without any warning, flash of lightning and a clap of thunder came almost simultaneously, bringing the horse out of her lethargy, frightening her and causing her to bolt, racing up the road and through our orchard, the wagon rattling along at her heals.

Out comes Mr. Rice at a hurried walk in pursuit of his rig, uttering in the same soft manner of speech, "Whoa, Dolly, whoa!" Fortunately the chase ended by the wagon being halted when one wheel caught on a pear tree, and Mr. Rice succeeded in calming the horse down and leading her back to the yard.

Then there was the meatman, the butcher, we called him in those days. He was a solemn unimaginative person on the hefty side, with a round, florid face, who never cracked a smile, not even when Mama asked one morning, "How's your liver today?" meaning of course, the liver in his cart.

How we loved to hear the fruit man coming! We could hear his cry long before he turned the corner into our street. He was an Italian, and drove a horse with open wagon containing fruits and vegetables in season. Mama often bought bananas from him, considered a luxury in those days, and would give us a quarter to get sixteen, his usual price.

The coming of the iceman was another thrill in our young lives, although we weren't allowed to run out when he came, to climb on the wagon and "snitch" a piece of ice. "It isn't lady—like," Mama'd say. But when he had gone, more often than not, a few retrievable pieces of fairly good size would be salvaged from the street before they melted. Not much was heard of pollution in those days, although undoubtedly the ice came from a pond we skated on in the winter.

The iceman, a young fellow who worked for his father on their farm on the outskirts of town, is the one I remember most. He'd have a rubber apron—like affair hanging over his back on which he'd sling the piece of ice held by ice tongs. These, when not in use, were hung on a hook at the back of the wagon. Spring scales were hung there, too, as ice was sold by weight and was ordered by a 15-cent piece, a 25-cent piece and so forth.

One day, after delivering the ice, Mama noticed him laughing as he drove by our back yard and went out to see what we were up to. She found that we were using a discarded wooden toilet seat for a window in the makeshift shack we were building. Of course our "window" was confiscated and relegated to the dump.

The fish man was one of three brothers who ran several businesses in town. They dealt in coal, hay and grain. One of them also drove the school "barge" and the fish man also delivered the Sunday papers. We looked forward to his coming but were interested only in the "funnies", and would shout out to each other as he turned into the yard, "I speak for Danny and Kitty" or "Billy the Boy Artist" or "The Katzenjammer Kids" whichever was our favorite.

Our home was as modern as any in town, with inside plumbing and central heat. Our furnace burned coal which was delivered in a two-horse drawn dump cart. The coal man (how black his face was from the coal dusts) would back the cart up to the cellar window, and run out a long chute that reached from a square hole in the tail gate to the window. Then, by tipping up the cart, the coal would go rushing down the chute with a thunderous roar into the bin.

Milk was another commodity delivered daily to the home right from the farm. It was fresh, raw milk, neither pasteurized nor homogenized, there being no law then to that effect. This too, was delivered from a horse-drawn wagon, the one I remember was but eight or ten inches from the ground and the milkman drove his horse standing up.

Other salesmen who came infrequently to our home in my younger days included the ladder man with his load of ladders and porch rocking chairs. We used to say he heralded a rainy day. There was also the ragman, who picked up our ragbag occasionally and sold us blueberries in season; the scissors grinder, who came on foot as did also the hulled corn man. We liked the product of the latter eaten with milk and molasses.

Times have changed since those days of over half a century ago. Looking back, I can see that the deliverymen brought more than commodities to the housewife. They brought also news, and bits of local gossip picked up here and there along their route.