Chapter from VOLUME 1

This story is from The Round Barn, Vol 1. Want to read more stories from the Round Barn? Order Volume 1 below or enter our discount code.

image of the cover of 'The Round Barn'

Silo and Barn
Milk Routes

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A photo of a milkman in front of his milk truck.

A famililar cream-colored vehicle
(though that's not Charlie)

Chapter 7: The One-Armed Milkman

It's a sunny morning in late spring. Jackie and Craig are playing Find-the-Milkman. It's a game they've played all their lives. It goes like this: a milkman is on on his route and Daddy has to get ahold of him for some reason, such as to give him additional milk for a customer or to tell him there's one he missed. Daddy drives to the area where the milkman is delivering. Any children in the car take opposite windows. "Keep your eyes peeled," says Daddy, and he cruises the streets, going slowly through the intersections while everybody peers up and down, looking for the familiar cream-colored vehicle. Finally someone spots it, yells out, and the game is over. Sometimes the game takes quite a while, for a truck has so many streets it can be on, and houses it can dodge behind, that it can stay hidden for a suprising stretch. And all this without the milkman doing it deliberately— he doesn't realize that he's the object of hide-and-seek. He reacts as though Daddy's running into him on his rounds is a pleasant coincidence.

Today, however, Daddy is perplexed. "Vanished!" he keeps saying. "He's evaporated off the face of the earth!"

"He" is Charlie Heisz, the one-armed mikman. Around eight o'clock calls began coming in from customers on this route that the milkman had missed them. After four or five such calls Daddy'd slung a case of milk in the trunk, taken Craig and Jackie, and headed for town to play Find-the-Milkman.

Following last month's route book, Daddy traces Charlie's route. Charlie, he finds, has delivered the start of it. Then, at a corner, and between one page and the next of the route book, he's disappeared. Everyone before has had milk, those after are the ones telephoning.

Daddy is more and more mystified. At first he'd figured Charlie's truck had broken down, but why hadn't he called for Erv or Ed, the farm mechanics, to come fix it? And more to the point, where is the broken-down truck? It should be on this very corner.

Daddy goes into a customer's house and calls the police. He returns shaking his head. There have been no accident reports involving a milk truck, but they'll alert all their patrolmen to be on the lookout for a one-armed-milkman.

The hospital, too, says they haven't recently admitted anyone with only one arm but will call the farm if they do. "Keep your eyes peeled," Daddy repeats to Craig and Jackie, and they all go back to playing Find-the-Milkman around the blocks of Charlie's route.

After ten more minutes Daddy gives up. He speeds back to the dairy, collars Roscoe Ocker, the relief driver who's working in the milkhouse today, and together they load up the farm truck with milk for Charlie's customers. Craig and Jackie perch on the loading platform and drink chocolate milk.

"You kids might as well stay home this time," says Daddy, but the two have no intention of abandoning the search now. They're eager to return to the scene. They climb into the back of the truck with the milk, and bounce and rattle to town.

At the disappearance corner everyone becomes a team. Roscoe drives and calls out orders from the route book. Up behind, Daddy loads carriers and hands them down to Jackie or Craig, who lug the milk and cream put to the people's doors as hastily as the weight of the load will permit. Daddy laughs and says, "Never has a route been delivered so fast!" At every corner Jackie still peels her eyes for Charlie's missing truck.

For forty-five minutes they deliver. Then Roscoe rounds another corner, and they are radiator-to-radiator with a Dougan milk truck. The one-armed-milk man is just returning to it, his wire carrier swinging jauntily from his single hand.

"Charlie!" shouts Daddy with relief and exasperation.

"Oh, hello," says Charlie, as if he hasn't been the concern of customers, management, police, and hospitals for the past several hours and as if and as if meeting Daddy and Roscoe, Jackie and Craig running his route is an ordinary occurrence.

"Whatever happened to you? Where've you been? We've searched everywhere!" Daddy expostulates. "Your customers have been calling since eight o'clock!"

Charlie looks surprised. He sets down his carrier, scratches his chin, gazes at the sky. Then he grins sheepishly. "Well, today, part of the way along, I suddenly realized how bored I was, delivering my route the same old way every day. So I just drove to the last house and started going backward. That's all."

Daddy shakes his head wearily. "Mon Dieu," he exclaims. "Tell me the next time you get bored, and I'll give you variety!"

But Jackie understands perfectly how Charlie feels. So does Craig.

"Just think," he says as they ride among the milk cases out Colley Road, with Charlie following them in his truck. "Just think how he saved you and me from a boring morning, too."

"And not just us," Jackie replies, considering how very many people were spared a boring morning by their one-armed milkman.

—from Volume I, Book 3
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