I’ve used Postmates with great satisfaction to order dinner when my larder was empty or the weather foul. I’ve watched on my i-phone as the preparation and delivery are tract to show the exact time of arrival. No money changes hands. Everything is done on line, including the tip.
Who Knocked on Your Door?
As I marveled at food service in the digital age, I thought about the home deliveries of yesteryear. I grew up in a neighborhood of 400 identical, semi-detached homes. The densely populated area made it a target for door-to-door salesmen, trick-or-treaters, and religion hucksters. We had all sorts of food items and services delivered to the door.
Below are a few that I remember.
The Grocery Delivery Boy
Several blocks away, Myer’s Grocery, the local mom and pop store, made home deliveries—- at the back door or front, whichever you preferred. What’s more the boxed groceries arrived within the hour.
Housewives could just say “put it on the book” to delay payment. The early credit system was the forerunner of Master Card, without the interest. But my mother followed “a cash only” policy; if you didn’t have money to pay, you didn’t buy.
Our most frequent delivery service came from the milkman. The white clad driver left bottles in the galvanized milk box, that sat on nearly every porch.
Milk was not homogenized, which meant the thick, yellowish cream collected in the bulb-shaped top of the bottle. You had to homogenize it yourself with some vigorous shaking. Opening was a cinch, with the lightly crimped paper wrapper.
If you left a note in the box, the milkman would also leave cottage cheese, sour cream, whipping cream, butter, or chocolate milk.
The Good Humor Man
The Good Humor man came along each summer afternoon, wearing a white outfit and visored cap, with a coin changer swinging from his belt. His arrival was announced by a clanging bell, that could be heard easily through the screen doors on a hot summer day. (This was at a time before air conditioning.) Kids would run inside to beg a nickel (price of a popsicle) or a dime (price of Good Humor ice cream bar).
The Bread Man
The chatty, affable bread man tooted his arrival with a whistle, a call for housewives to come out to the truck for baked goods. Since my mother was one of the few women on the block who worked full time, she was seldom around for the mobile bakery. She bought our white Wonder Bread or Bond Bread at the grocery, where it was cheaper.
The Scissor Grinder Man
Another bell ringer was the scissor grinder man. He carried a heavy piece of machinery as he walked along hunched over from the awkward load.
The bell had a very distinctive, duh-dung-dung sound, that I can still hear in my head as I write about it now. The scissor grinder man would set up shop under a shade tree, as housewives gathered around with their dull knives and scissors.
The Mail Man
Mail delivery to our house was fraught with some danger. We had a Rhode Island red rooster, Petey, who started out as an Easter chick and grew to be a “watch dog.”
Petey took a special disliking to the mailman. At the time, I thought it was quite funny, watching a grown man run off the front porch with a chicken in hot pursuit.
But after Petey flailed the postman one time too many, the guy threatened to stop leaving the mail until we got rid of our attack rooster.
Petey spent his remaining days on a nearby farm.
Other Callers: Welcome and Unwelcome
There were others who frequented our neighborhood in southeast Washington, DC., who are worthy of note. Mr. Hulsey, the stern-faced insurance man, was a regular at most doors. You could count on him showing up in a Fedora during cold weather and a white Panama hat in the summer.
He always carried a huge account book tucked under one arm. Mama would count out 25 cents each on several policies, which he’d meticulously recorded in his book. Hulsey was more than an insurance collector, he was a great source of gossip since he knew the neighborhood so well. Such news tidbits as who was sick, out of work, or moving spread faster than the Asian flu.
Last, and most annoying, were the persistent religion peddlers. From a crack in the door, we’d assure each such visitor that our souls were in good care at the Baptist church down the street. With that said, most went on their way without argument.
Today Postmates, Uber, and even robots have made personalized delivery quick and efficient, but not nearly as much fun as it once was.