What’s in a Milk Bottle

I still remember the time when someone delivered Crystal Milk to our front door. When I was very young, the milk came in clear glass bottles—two different styles. One bottle was designed with an extra fat neck looking like a smaller vessel resting upon the larger bottle. This is the place where the cream settled. The other style was more typical, as the milk it contained was homogenized, and no doubt pasteurized. At some point, I must have expressed an interest in the cream contained in the fat-necked bottles, because my father proceeded to explain what homogenized and pasteurized meant. For some reason I still remember this moment.

Later, Crystal Milk arrived in the sort of cartons we use today. The milkman (apparently, there were no milk-women) would leave these cartons right by the front door—and occasionally a dog plundered them, leaving spilt milk to sour in the hot Sacramento Valley air.

I was most drawn to bottles with the non-homogenized milk (the ones with orange lettering), because they needed to be shaken before they were poured. I found them weird  and more cheerful than the garden-variety bottles (the ones with red lettering). A later model of me would have called them quirky.

When Crystal switched to cartons of homogenized/pasteurized milk, the need to shake the containers became a distant memory, one that was not brought back into focus until I was teenager living on an Oregon farm.

During that time we purchased milk directly from the dairy down the road. Though the milk was bottled in the same gallon-size plastic containers you could find in the grocery store, it was sold raw (not pasteurized or homogenized). That meant the cream floated above the milk, and the entire concoction needed to be shaken before it was consumed. This milk was delicious. It was easy to cheat, to pour more cream than was allotted for an eight ounce glass of milk—for a truly rich drink.

Today, the Food and Drug Administration warns against the dangers of raw milk: “Raw, unpasteurized milk can carry dangerous bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria, which are responsible for causing numerous foodborne illnesses.” I must say, I did love raw milk back in the day, but I’ve become wary of E. coli. And anyway, I haven’t had a glass of raw milk in years.

Every so often, though, I think of those fat-necked bottles that captured my attention before I set foot in kindergarten. I’m happy to remember them—my personal album of childhood recollections now contains more holes than images. Even so, it remains a slideshow of quirky things: bamboo in the backyard, old Chevrolet pick-up my father could repair himself, tiny plastic telephone on a keychain (in pastel pink or blue), levee, railroad spike, persimmon, toad, green tomato worm, hose fight, wooden railroad trestle that once propped up a logging line running to Butte Falls, Shetland pony, sewing machine, Butte Creek Mill, pear orchard, Oregon Shakespeare Festival Tart Girl (apparently there were no Tart Boys).

Yes, there are many details I wouldn’t mind having back, such as what the meat market looked like or the first car I ever knew—yet the quirky ones still shimmer. I could probably continue to meditate upon my favorite milk bottle (Google Images has proven I’ve remembered it accurately) and conjure algae-covered strands of thoughts and feelings demanding to be pulled to the surface and subsequently inspected until there is enough material to shape it into something that transcends the personal and becomes art. For a single image plucked from one’s youth has the potential of stirring an entire story—real or imagined—crisply present.

“The Dangers of Raw Milk: Unpasteurized Milk Can Pose a Serious Health Risk” Protecting and Promoting Your Health. U. S. Food and Drug Administration, 7 May 2015. Web. 24 Aug. 2015.