The Bottle Caps of Camelot

by Robert Keats
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In 1944, Ella Mae Morse had a hit single that began:

Milkman, keep those bottles quiet
Can’t use that jive on my milk diet

capitol_record.jpg That was before my time, but in the ’50s and ’60s the milkman came to our house three times a week, leaving bottles of milk on the back stoop and taking away the empties. The glass bottles would clink in the milkman’s wire basket – a gentle sound I took as a music cue to start my homework.

Each bottle cap featured the likeness of an American President, from George Washington to John F. Kennedy. The teachers at our elementary school encouraged us to collect them. I thought it was their way of telling me that I could get a better education at the dairy.

As a kid, I wasn’t lactose intolerant, I was lactose insatiable. A bottle of milk was as much a part of the kitchen table as that bowl of wax fruit with the unexplained teeth marks. And it was milk that was my beverage of choice on what turned out to be the last day of Camelot.

November 22, 1963. I was in fifth grade. School was within walking distance, and we had an hour-and-a-half for lunch. That was one of the great luxuries of my youth. To be able to go home every day and have my mother there to make me a hot meal.

But on that November day in Chicago, the temperature was mild, the skies were blue, and I was bathed in sunshine as I walked home. I had no need to warm my bones. There was no need for soup. This was a day for peanut butter and jelly. And ice cold milk.

I drank glass after glass until I reached the bottom of the bottle and had to open a new one. I twisted off the pleated cardboard top, hoping for a bottle cap I didn’t already have. Please don’t let it be Warren G. Harding again. Or Millard Fillmore. The Fillmore jokes had gotten old, even for a ten-year-old. I needed another president. And not Ike. I liked Ike. But I had Ike.

fdr_pin.jpg Who did I get?...Franklin Roosevelt. Which was great. I needed him.

My mother saw the Roosevelt bottle cap, and with a nostalgic smile, said to me, “You know, your great uncle was…”

“A Roosevelt?”

“A milkman.”

I had heard the family stories about the dentist who boxed and the legendary news producer and the cancer research scientist. But this was the first time I heard about Morris the milkman.

When Roosevelt was president, the whole family would go to Morris’s house every weekend, and the men would argue about politics. They were all Democrats, and they all loved Roosevelt, yet they fought all the time.

When the arguments would reach fever pitch, my grandfather, the patriarch, a brilliant lawyer and tough as nails, would be heard above the other voices.

“You’re all a bunch of damn fools!” he would tell them.

And he would let them know exactly how he saw things. And they would listen. And his would always be the last word. Then, these rabble-rousers would make peace over tea and cookies.

I thanked my mother for lunch and the story and headed back to school.

kennedy.jpg Along the way, I joined my friend, Wes, and was about to tell him about Morris the milkman, when, from up the block, we heard someone call out, “Wait up!”

It was our classmate, Ricky, who, in fifth grade, was a political extremist. So when he told us that President Kennedy had been shot, we didn’t believe him.

But when we arrived at school, everyone was gathered around the radio. And at one o’clock, the newscaster announced that President Kennedy had died.

Lunchtime was over. And so was Camelot. The world was forever changed.

Kennedy was the last president in that set of bottle caps. Images of the milkman have long since faded away. And those milk bottles – that have been replaced by cartons – have sadly gone quiet.


Robert Keats is a screenwriter and humorist. He is currently developing a television series for Penny Marshall.




Milkman, keep those bottles quiet
Can’t use that jive on my milk diet
So, milkman, keep those bottles quiet

Been jumpin’ on the swing shift all night
Turnin’ out my quota all right
Now I’m beat right down to the sod
Gotta catch myself some righteous nod
So, milkman, keep those bottles quiet

Milkman, stop that grade-A riot
Cut out if you can’t lullaby it
Oh, milkman, keep those bottles quiet

Been knocking out a fast tank all day
Working on a bomber okay
Boy, you blast my wig with those clinks
And I got to catch my forty winks
So, milkman, keep those bottles quiet

Now noise of the riveter rocks don’t mind it
’Cause the man with the whiskers has a lot behind it
But I can’t keep punchin’ with the victory crew
When you’re making me punchy with that bottled moo

I wanna give my all if I’m gonna give it
But I gotta get my shuteye if I’m gonna rivet
So bail out, bud, with that milk barrage
’Cause it’s unpatriotic it’s sabotage

Been knocking out a fast tank all day
Working on a bomber okay
Boy, you blast my wig with those clinks
And I got to catch my forty winks
So, milkman, keep those bottles quiet

Oooo, milkman, keep those bottles quiet
Oooo, milkman, keep those bottles quiet



Words and Music by Don Raye and Gene De Paul 


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