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Memories of manure, milk at Harpain's

By Cathy Crosby

A FresnoBee.com Article

08/01/08 22:56:16

Recent stories about raw milk and the evolving Granite Park with its variety of recreation and restaurants have brought back some wonderful childhood memories. The land that had long been vacant is being transformed. But for me, it is still overflowing with rich, chocolate milk memories of childhood visits to a wonderful place -- Walt Harpain's Dairy.

Anyone who ever tasted it, will say with ecstatic emphasis as their eyes roll heavenward, "They had the best chocolate milk!" Ahh, nothing compared with that cold, creamy, rich chocolate milk!

At Harpain's, nice, young men in white pants and red-and-white-checked shirts would fill our orders and place the glass bottles in our sturdy wire carrier. Sometimes we were especially lucky and parked in what we called "the little place," a carport off the side door, and they would carry the milk right to our car.

We were a family of four kids who drank 12 half-gallons of milk a week, and that required twice weekly trips to Harpain's. (Let's see: six gallons times 52 weeks, times maybe 16 years -- that's about 5,000 gallons!) So, we had a six-bottle carrier, not the ordinary four-bottle models that hung from the beams on the underside of the low roof of the little dairy store. As you can imagine, six bottles of milk in the carrier were very heavy, and it was a matter of pride when we got big enough to be trusted to lug it into the house, glass clanging against glass and wire.

I still have the carrier and some of the bottles, too. They were capped with a cardboard lid that had a little tab to help remove it, and then a pleated paper cap on top. For a long time, the lids had the presidents' pictures on them, and we would collect and glue them onto a big piece of paper. When I was very young, I remember our order was "three raw and three skim" half gallons. "Raw" sounds rather harsh for the delicious, unpasteurized and unhomogenized milk with the cream that rose to the top. Mommy would pour off the cream and save it for Sunday, when Daddy used it to make a rich apple coffee cake for breakfast.

Feasting my senses

The dairy was a feast for the senses. My mind's eye wanders back over the fields of green alfalfa along Cedar Avenue, from Dakota to Hampton Way. We turned east, down the lane of evergreen trees to the silver metallic painted dairy buildings, and the white turn-of-the-century farmhouse with palm trees and cactus garden out front.

A small parking lot -- of gravel in the early days -- was surrounded by the dairy buildings, a small office building and the house. On the shady side of the milking barn, there was a picnic table to sit and enjoy a pint glass bottle of that wonderful chocolate milk. South of the barn was an enormous pile of manure with a sign at the top that read, "Sack it yourself and save!" I don't remember a price, but I'm sure it must have been a terrific deal.

From there, we could walk down the lane and see so many things. There was an open shed with antique buggies and wagons, and calf pens that we bravely stuck our hands into and let the sweet, wobbly, newborn calves suck our fingers. (They didn't have any teeth yet.) There were small monkeys that would rattle their wire cage, making a terrible racket.

Across the lane were llamas in a pen, and a long manger filled with hay, where we could watch the hungry dairy cows eat, or pick out some sprigs of dried alfalfa and see if it tasted as good to us.

Good teeth, strong bones

I guess Harpain's lasted longer than some of the other small, local dairies because it was on the edge of Leaky Acres, under the airport flight path and surrounded by new neighborhoods full of milk-loving, young families. At Centennial School, we had milk in cartons at lunch from Ideal, Woodbury and Producers dairies, but they never quite measured up to those big, frosty bottles from Harpain's waiting in the fridge at home.

By the way, none of us has ever broken a bone, and we have great teeth, too. Thanks, Walt.

Cathy Crosby of Fresno, who still loves chocolate milk, is an analyst for Fresno County.