When pumpkin time rolls around, we lay in a supply of chocolate. Not M&M’s or Snickers bars. We buy chocolate milk–small half pints of the cold stuff, ready to tuck into proffered pumpkins or grocery sacks or pillow cases when little ones come trick-or-treating.
Though a dairy once stood on this spot, the chocolate milk tradition didn’t begin until 1972, the year Robby and I first became parents–the year we moved into the abandoned house my grandfather had built sixty years before.
At the time, Robby was supplying wholesale milk and cream to Colonial Williamsburg from my father’s Hampton Heights Dairy, located on Fox Hill Road. He would park the big loaded milk truck at our house overnight, ready for early morning deliveries.
The pastures around us were just being cut through with roads and new homes, and we weren’t sure, that first Halloween, whether we would have any trick-or-treaters at all. As the sun started going down, it dawned on us that we hadn’t bought any candy. I guess Robby went out to the milk truck and grabbed a few cold chocolate milk cartons in case anyone showed up.
Then we went to bed—Robby for early rising, me catching some sleep before our baby called out for her night feeding.
We were awakened by a loud banging on the door! Ghosts and goblins from nearby Sandpiper Street, longer established than ours, had braved the spookiness of the old house and were demanding treats! We leaped out of bed and thrust cold chocolate milk cartons into their surprised hands.
And that’s when it all began.
Every year since, the fridge gets stocked with chocolate milk and we wait for the parade of gypsies, vampires, and butterflies.
But the family dairy business ended in the 70’s. How to keep finding those cute little half pints you can’t buy in the store? Local school system to the rescue. Year after year now,Karen, the cafeteria manager at Menchville High School, has stocked her milk coolers with Robby in mind. She reserves a crate or two of the small plastic bottles just for our Halloween event.
Here is the fierce note he found guarding his purchase this year!
Last year panic set in as the delivery schedule left Karen short of half pints on October 31. Not for long. A quick call to Denbigh High School got their cafeteria in on the project, and 75 milk bottles were soon waiting for Robby there. It was touching to read this note.
Somehow the Yoder name—forever associated with dairies around here—came through. And I fervently wished it was my dad who was picking up the crate oftreats he had always called “choc’ate milk.”
When children receive the cold milk, they often want to stop in their tracks to drink it, hot and thirsty from their costumes and the trudging from door to door.
Some who may have picked up milk early in the evening return toward the end, hoping for a second helping to wash down the Kit-Kats.
After the chorus of “Trick or Treat!” we often hear:
“Are you giving chocolate milk again next year?”
“Somebody told me this house gives out chocolate milk!”
“Do you have any regular milk?”
“I used to come here for chocolate milk when I was a little boy years ago!”
“Can I have some for my Dad and Mom? They used to come here to get it too.”
“Mom!!! I got chocolate milk! Can I drink it now?”
And always, the chorused, “Thank you!!!”
I love how this one night brings the past and present together in a moment of celebration. Listen as I might, I no longer hear the heavy hoof-steps and tail-swishing and mooing of a herd of dairy cows. I don’t hear the roar of the dairy truck heading off to Williamsburg in the early morning so Chowning’s Tavern diners can have their black walnut ice cream.
But weare satisfied to hear the happy voices of children floating through the neighborhood as they run awkwardly in costumes, waving our small bottle of chocolate milk in the air.
Susan Yoder Ackerman is a writer and gardener in Newport News, Virginia. Both her writing and her gardening are enhanced by tending a century-old family farmhouse and eight grandchildren that come and go. You can email Susan at [email protected]