July 16, 1998

Familiar Strangers

He had slicked back hair and a Lucky Strike dangling from his lips. It is hard to smile with a cigarette positioned so, but he always had a smile for me. The tattoo, USN with a big anchor, made me wonder. Had he been on one of those big battleships during the war? He brought attitude to our home. He was our garbageman.

I knew when he was coming because the big, smelly truck was not quiet. He carried his own pail on his shoulder and he would swing it down beside ours. An efficient flip of the lid and a swirl of one can emptying into another and a lifting back onto the shoulder would be accompanied by a “Hi kid.” That was enough for me. He was my friend.

When I was small, lots of people dropped by the house on a regular basis. The readers for the gas, electric and water meters would show up like clockwork. I loved these mystery men (why no women?) who would be ushered into our house and down into the basement. Most guests did not get to see the basement, so they must have been special.

The milkman from Symmes Dairy dropped off quart bottles of milk, each with a layer of cream on top. Yuk. I hated the cream which would always leave chunks of white in my glass of milk. I cannot picture that milkman. I think it is because of the cream.

I recall much more clearly the milkmen who would visit my home in the 1980’s. In Duxbury, a smiley man with a shock of white hair would deliver from the back of his pickup truck. He always left a special small carton of chocolate milk for my little daughter.

Of course, there was always the mailman. Every day, at the same time he would appear at the back door with the mail. In summer I would stand behind the screen door just staring. He would open the screen and hand me the big pile of mail - big anyway for my small hands. In winter I would try to catch the mail before it fell from the door slot to the floor.

My favorite mailman was at a hospital. When I was three my father spent many weeks in a hospital in Boston after a serious heart attack. Everyday I would travel a long way with my mother to the hospital but I was not old enough to visit my father. I had to wait in the lobby. Every day the mailman would greet me with a big smile as he passed by and give me a Chicklet. I can still taste it today.

These are the men who spruced up my life, who added some pizzazz to the daily routine. I spend a lot of time at home now, working from my home. I leave my trash barrels out on the street and I have never seen the face of the barrel thrower. My newspaper delivery is by a faceless person in a black pick-up who throws it toward my driveway without slowing down before six in the morning

I met my gas meter reader who rides on a mountain bike through the yards, but he is about to be replaced by a van and radio technology. My hometown just did the same for water and electric.

My mail has not been delivered to the door for many years. Small white trucks sweeping down the street have been deemed more efficient.

No more Lucky Strikes. No more little chocolate milks. No more Chicklets. Progress?

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