I can’t begin to count the number of times my mother would call to me and ask me to see who was at the door. Growing up in the late forties and throughout the fifties, I experienced a lifestyle that had virtually disappeared.
Although we had a variety of small shops within easy walking distance of our home, many businesses went above and beyond the call of duty to win us over as customers.
There were three major newspapers in Pittsburgh back then: The Press, The Post-Gazette, and The Sun-Telegraph. All three offered jobs to young boys to deliver the papers door to door. We subscribed to The Press. The daily papers cost five cents and the Sunday edition was twenty cents. Once a week a boy came knocking on the door to collect the fifty cents we owed him.
For home milk delivery, we had a choice of Meadow Gold, Harmony, or Otto’s Dairy. My Uncle Tom worked for Meadow Gold, so they won our business. Of course, if we ran out between deliveries, we could always stop one of the other company’s drivers and get whatever we needed. I know they sold regular milk, buttermilk, chocolate milk, half and half, and whipping cream. They may have also sold eggs and butter. My memory is a bit weak in that regard,
Once a week a truck – I believe it was Brandi’s Cleaners – came by with laundered shirts for my older brothers. That same company did dry cleaning, but for whatever reason, we always took our dry cleaning down to Mr. Swartz.
The mail man came once a day except when they delivered twice a day in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Of course, we were paying the princely sum of three or four cents for first class mail back in those days.
In the years following the depression, insurance companies began selling policies that had weekly premiums. My parents had policies on themselves as well as me and my siblings. Each policy cost anywhere from ten to twenty cents per week, and a man came by once a week to collect the money. The thing I remember most about him was his smelly cigars. He never gave a thought to leaving the thing outside before he walked right in and announced his presence.
I’m not sure how often another old man came buy. He would drive his ancient truck slowly up and down every alley and street yelling, “Rag Man!” I don’t think my parents ever had anything to give or sell to him, so I’m not sure how his business operated. Looking in the back of his truck made me believe he’d take just about anything… including rags.
For the first few years of my life, we’d see the man in the coal truck making his deliveries. Our house was equipped with a coal chute that led to the coal cellar. My father had to carry buckets of coal from that cellar to the main cellar to keep the furnace going in the winter. Later, after we converted to a gas furnace, we used that cellar to store fruits and vegetables my mother had ‘canned’ in Mason jars.
As I recall, the men who delivered coal in the winter were the same fellows who delivered ice in the summer. While I did encounter a few ice boxes at summer cottages, my family had already moved up in the world and we had a Frigidaire during my early childhood.
Another frequent visitor was a blind man who sold various housewares such as dish towels, combs, brushes, and the like. Some people called him a drummer. As a child, I could never understand that term; I never did see his drum.
I was always fascinated how he was able to negotiate the sidewalks and steps using a long white cane with a red tip. My mother usually bought something from him simply because he was making an effort to earn his own living and not relying on charity.
Although my parents had a reasonable supply of whet stones and strops, when the man with the grindstone came around to sharpen scissors and knives, my mother usually let him sharpen her favorite utensils.
In addition to all the folks listed so far, we had a number of other weekly visitors: the bread man, vegetable hucksters, and the ever-popular ice cream man. In truth, there were two ice cream men – one soft serve and the other the Good Humor type products – and they came around almost every day in the summer.
Obviously the shopkeepers in our business district weren’t about to lose all their business to the home delivery folks. Some of my friends had jobs at the drug store and grocery stores doing nothing but making home deliveries.
As more and more families bought first and second cars, and more housewives went to work full time, the home delivery market seemed to dry up. For years, it was virtually impossible to get something smaller than a refrigerator delivered to your home. The one exception I can think of right now is the florists. Through it all, they continued to deliver flowers to homes, hospitals, and offices.
Then came the pizza revolution. Pizza shops began opening in every neighborhood. Before long, someone hit on the idea of home delivery. Before long, Chinese restaurants caught the spirit, as did other restaurants.
While Western Union worked their way out of home delivery and began using the telephone to deliver their messages, Easter Onion and other similar companies began delivering silly messages and strippers.
Now, I notice that some drug stores have returned to making home deliveries. Some of their vehicles are even more fancy than the pizza delivery cars. There are also caterers who will prepare a fancy dinner and deliver it to the homemaker who can serve it while pretending it was all cooked right on the premises.
Perhaps home delivery is coming back in all its glory. That reminds me, I have a few shirts that need to go to the laundry. Maybe I can find one who will save me the trip.