For a year or two, around the turn of the last century, I served as business editor of a daily newspaper in the western suburbs of Boston.
One of the shiny new ideas of those prosperous times was the notion of home grocery delivery. You’d send in your order over this semi-newfangled Internet thingy, and a van would come to your home at a pre-arranged time with your bag of pork chops and canned pineapple slices.
I used to indulge in lengthy debates about this with my technology reporter, a sharp young woman who has since gone much farther in life than I ever will.
She eagerly touted the benefits of having someone else gather and deliver your groceries. In contrast, I said I enjoyed choosing exactly the right red pepper; found such an activity relaxing; and would consider it a defeat to surrender the task to a stranger.
What I didn’t remember at the time — maybe she did — was that the model of home grocery delivery had much deeper roots than the Internet boom. In fact, my grandparents and great-grandma benefited from it.
When it worked, that is.
For some reason, the year of Beatlemania and the Tonkin Gulf Incident was a particularly poor year for milk delivery. (I am presuming that “no milk” on these calendar entries means that none was delivered, not that none was ordered.)
I’ve never had anything delivered to my door except pizza, wings and Lake Tung Ting shrimp. So the idea is sort of alien to me that people used to open their door in the morning to find a glass jug of milk. I mean, I’ve heard of milkmen (and heard the jokes), but I’ve never really thought about it as a regular part of daily life.
According to my dad and aunt, the company my grandparents and great-grandma used to rely on for their dairy needs was Sheffield Farms Dairy, which was part of Sealtest and based about a half-mile away from my grandparents’ house.
My dad remembers:
You left your old bottles (early recycling!) by your front door with a note in the top specifying how much of what you wanted this time. Initially I only remember two choices – milk and cream.
Not sure I have my chemistry correct, but I believe the milk was pasteurized but not homogenized, meaning it was safe to drink but the top inch or more in the bottle was cream. The bottle was filled to the brim and “sealed” with a cardboard insert. If the milk sat out too long in the winter it began to freeze, and the semi-frozen cream would push the cardboard insert up and out (I’m sure the cardboard was used on purpose so the glass wouldn’t break in case of freezing).
The frozen cream which came out of the bottle was fair game for kids to eat with a spoon; it tasted like the world’s richest ice cream.
I’m not sure what happened to Sheffield Farms or Sealtest … well, to be more precise, I know what happened, but I don’t know when.
A Google search shows they were still advertising jobs in Stamford’s Springdale neighborhood as late as 1967. Newspaper obituaries from the late ’90s, meanwhile, make reference to “the former Sealtest Dairy” in Stamford. So, at some point between the two dates, Stamfordites had to steel themselves to leaving home and going to get their milk at Stew Leonard’s or Bongiorno’s.
That said, Stamford is an affluent community; and what goes around, comes around.
Another Google search (I rely on Google like my grandparents relied on Sheffield Farms) shows at least three dairies, and possibly more, offering milk delivery to homes in the city.
Quality is now a selling point along with convenience, with the companies advertising the animal- and earth-friendly nature of their milk. They also use insulated drop-off boxes now, which, I imagine, cheat the children of Stamford out of the wintertime treat of frozen cream.
For all I know, the people living in the condos that now occupy the 1100 block of Hope Street might be getting their milk delivered every morning.
They don’t have much in common with my grandparents and great-grandma besides an address. Who would have guessed that a jug of milk on the front stoop might be a common bond?