Originally published January 20, 2013
Recently, I was chatting with someone who was complaining that the days were too short. You know, during the winter months – when it’s dark when you get up in the morning, it’s dark on your way to school/work and it’s dark on your way home after school/work. And as this person continued talking, I stopped listening – not to be rude – but because a childhood memory suddenly flashed before me.
It was when I was a little boy – probably pre-school, when I would awaken early in the morning to the muffled sounds of my Mom making breakfast for my Dad who would be in the bathroom shaving and getting ready for work. I would rush down the stairs, past the kitchen, past the bathroom, until I got to the top step of the stairs leading to the cellar and then I would sit down and wait.
My eyes would be glued to the little door on the wall in front of me, which was called the “milk box”. It actually had two doors – one that opened from the outside of the house and one that opened from the inside. I would sit and wait patiently until the milk box door suddenly burst open and a red-faced milkman poked his head inside and yelled “Milkman!”
“Hi Mr. Blair!” would be my reply.
“Hi Danny!” he would cheerfully reply. Mr. Blair knew all of our names and everyone in the neighborhood knew his name.
Mr. Blair would carry a supply of milk bottles (quart-sized glass bottles) and after opening the milk box door and shouting “Milkman!”, my Mom would come to the back landing of the stairs and tell him how many bottles. Mr. Blair would take the empty bottles back to the cart with him. Yes, we had recycling in those days – not just for milk – pop and beer bottles were returned for 2 cents a bottle refund. No plastic, cardboard, pop or beer cans – just glass bottles which were used over and over. You could always tell how old the bottle was by all of the scratches on the glass and by the faded printing. And the lid of the milk bottle was just a round piece of cardboard (pictured below) – there wasn’t a need to have tamper-proof packaging (and we never locked our doors back then either).
Beaton’s Dairy Oshawa
After Mr. Blair finished at our house, he would go to the neighbors and repeat the process. As far as I can remember, he delivered milk to every house on our street (Sutherland Avenue). One other detail: he had a horse and flatbed trailer. Not the fancy white carts like the ones you’d see in Toronto, but his horse was every bit as neat as those used in the big city. After he left our house, I would run to the front window to watch him go to his horse-drawn trailer to pick up more bottles – but he never sat on the trailer – or at least I never saw him sitting on the trailer while on our street. He would just walk along the boulevard and the horse would follow. When Mr. Blair stopped, the horse stopped. I remember when Mr. Blair pulled up in a delivery truck for the first time and I was sad that he no longer had his horse. I would ask about his horse and Mr. Blair would always have a short story to tell me about it. I remember that he once told me that he had to get up extra early to feed the horse and then start his deliveries. He worked for Beaton’s Dairy, which is probably no longer in business.
Years later, when I was in my twenties, I ran into Mr. Blair at the Loblaws grocery store. He remembered my name and asked about my Mom and Dad and my brothers and sisters. He mentioned that he had been retired for years and was very happy that I had remembered him. I asked him about his son, Wren Blair, who at the time was a talent scout for the Boston Bruins and his eyes would twinkle with pride as he gave me the latest news about the Whitby Dunlops, Oshawa Generals and Boston Bruins. (Wren Blair recently passed away – he was 87 years old).
I also remember that I wanted to ask him about his horse but was afraid to – in case it was no longer alive – because I know the heartache of losing a pet.
I wonder if the houses in the old neighborhood still have those milk boxes? I hope so.