Few things were sweeter on those mornings than a fresh crate of milk on the back porch. I may be dating myself by remembering the Mathis Dairy man, but drinking an icy cold glass of fresh milk was an experience in and of itself.
I saw him perhaps twice in my life. Usually I just heard him. I didn’t hear his truck, didn’t hear him cough in the complete silence of the morning. Twice a week I awoke to the gentle clinking of the glass milk bottles as he gently placed them one at a time in the wooden crate by our back door, taking the empty ones back to the dairy on Rainbow Drive in south DeKalb County.
It is a wonder over 30 short years the milk man has been almost entirely forgotten but for a joke when someone’s child doesn’t quite look like them. I am waiting for the day when my son asks me, “Dad, what was a milk man?”
Simply put, during the dog days of summer he was the most important person in the world. Those clear glass bottles with the red Mathis Dairy lettering popping off the white of the milk was sheer perfection.
Mathis Dairy wasn’t a Buckhead institution. It was an Atlanta institution. Generations grew up with Rosebud, the dairy’s famed cow that had been milked by thousands of school children on field trips. There were even buttons proclaiming, “I milked Rosebud!”
Mathis was a major operation serving the entire Southeastern U.S. In our house, with three boys going full tilt from sunup to well past sundown, milk was usually scarce. It was better then, fresher, probably because it made a short trip from the cow to our breakfast table. And nothing compared to its chocolate milk. There were constant reminders to our mother Mary Kennedy to please order the chocolate. She seldom forgot. It would be gone by dinner.
Mathis Dairy dated back to 1917, when a young R.L. Mathis purchased his uncle’s farm in DeKalb County. Early in the 20th century, the area was home to more than 200 dairy farms. That original purchase of 12 cows and 75 acres grew to 150 acres as Mathis Dairy became one of the most popular dairies in the Southeast.
I can’t clearly remember when we went from delivered milk to the store-bought kind, either from the Big Star or the A&P, but Mathis Dairy moved in 1988 and sold several times before the name eventually faded like so many from our past.
Thornton Kennedy is a fifth-generation Buckhead resident and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.