Monday, June 13, 2011

The Milkman Revisited

Eddie Lee

Every week I keep an eye out for interesting things to share; but this week I feel compelled to revisit a topic from two weeks ago that many of you commented on. It seems that my reference to “the milkman” stirred a lot of memories and your comments have sent me into a bit of a reverie. So let me tell you a little bit more about my ‘milkman’.

Eddie Lee was his name. He had one of those old panel trucks with Dairylea painted on the side. Dairylea was the dairyman’s cooperative league in central New York and I guess they employed guys like Eddie to promote their products. He was a neatly dressed (I remember some kind of dark uniform) and always wore a hat and tie. But more than that, he also always wore a smile. We had one of those metal boxes that sat outside the back door and in which he’d leave the milk and whatever else my mother ordered. Eddie delivered all of our dairy products even though I recall Mom going to the grocery store for many other things (remember the A&P and the P&C). And even though we called him the Milkman, he really brought so much more because he always delivered the milk with a smile and never left without asking if there’s anything else we needed. Whoever thought that world-class service was a more recent thing didn’t know Eddie.

Cheese, butter, eggs, cream cheese, eggnog, cottage cheese, heavy cream, sour cream – you name it, if it was a dairy product he had it along with the milk. And even though he had a preprinted order form that we could fill out and leave for him, he always seemed to be around to talk about our family, his family and our other needs. He was almost like a part of the family – I even think I asked if he could come to my bar-mitzvah. And it’s not like we had a succession of milkmen – he was it; I believe he started the route and retired when that kind of business went out of fashion in the mid-60s. I’m sure he was just an employee (more like an extension) of that dairy league, but to me it seemed that he was part of the team that fed and milked the cows, drove the trucks in the mornings after picking up the milk at the barn, pasteurized the milk so we wouldn’t get sick and all the others things that went into that business so that the milk got to our house cold and fresh. They all came together in his personalized service – with a smile – that we just don’t see much of today. Hey, I go into food stores today and the staff there can’t even tell me where the dairy section is! Guys like Eddie Lee loomed large in our world back then – he knew our birthdays, when we were graduating from something, whether we were sick (and if we were feeling better) and even conveyed messages and information from house to house in the neighborhood.

It was pretty cool, it made us feel good and it’s probably why all us baby boomers love shows like Happy Days, I Love Lucy, The Wonder Years and Laverne and Shirley. If I’m not careful, next I’ll be sitting out on the stoop and staring off into the middle distance of long ago memories. But before I do that I need to slap myself and remember that the great things we experienced and learned along the way could and should be rolled out whenever those best practices fit our everyday needs. Great ideas, whether retro or new, should never be ignored; great improvements, whether to fix something or start something new, should always be considered and great service – the kind where real people are concerned about and address the needs of other real people – should be part of how we live and work and act. Forget about the fact that we can’t go back; we can certainly remember the good and make sure we use it in our everyday lives, every day. The things we do – whether alone or a part of a larger team – always need to take into account the best of everything we’ve done and experienced and learned along the way. I’m not sure we will ever go back to tipping out hats like Eddie used to, but we should never forget or ignore what we all learned from people like “the Milkman”. Thanks to all the Eddie Lees in all of our lives!

My quote and message this week is about teamwork and team spirit – the key ingredients you need to have a successful recipe.

"Finding good players is easy. Getting them to play as a team is another story.” -Casey Stengel

Charles Dillon "Casey" Stengel (1890 –1975), nicknamed "The Old Perfessor", was an American Major League Baseball outfielder, manager and often-quoted punster. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1966.

Are you a good player or a team member or both? The answer is that you should try to be both. You certainly have to have the skills and abilities to make the team (or get a job or join a group) and these will be some of what you need to be successful. But if you and the others you’re with don’t pool and leverage these, then you and the others won’t be playing or working as successfully as you could. It’s only when everyone merges their collective talents that you all have the chance to win. Stengel managed lots of teams and his greatest successes were with the ones that had the individual talent AND the collective will to work together. Finding others to work or play with you is easy but getting you all to where you need to be in order to win at what you’re doing takes hard work and a collective commitment to excellence. Play as part of a team today and help write a successful story.

Stay Well!

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