For 40 years, in a career that ends early this evening, his door-to-door customers have simply called him "The Eggman," so that to call him Charles Dyke now--or even, more familiarly, Charles--would feel silly and tortured, like addressing Captain Kangaroo as Bob Keeshan. He is, and will forever be, The Eggman.
"I've always liked the name," The Eggman said yesterday. "I tell kids to call to me that way."
He was wiping sweat off his moon face and getting ready for yet another delivery on yet another suburban street in Northern Virginia. He didn't appear exactly busted up over saying so long to the egg business after four decades, but "just the same," he'd said on the phone the night before, "it's gonna be hard doing the goodbyes with customers whose families you've watched grow up. . . . I've been with them through their moving and sometimes the dying, too. . . .
"Everything passes on. . . . It could be emotional for me and my customers thinking about it all."
To his mourning customers, The Eggman has been a vestige of long ago, a reminder--like the hula hoop and Donna Reed and dinner at 6 in front of the black-and-white tube--of a time less frenetic and more pleasurable, if only in one's illusions.
Preparing for his final run and envisioning the long string of goodbyes awaiting him, Dyke sighed. "The day might be, well, unusual."
By early yesterday, strange seemed the dominant theme. As The Eggman climbed into his truck at 4 in the morning and set out from his Shenandoah Valley home, headed toward Northern Virginia and his 290 customers, his scratchy radio burst forth with a song The Eggman had never heard before.
Not in all his years of lugging around fresh Grade A's to his loyal customers waiting for The Eggman to cometh. Not in his decades of listening to his favorite country music stations and thinking about who might be boosting their egg orders in preparation for fantasies of perfect omelets and souffles, sponge cakes and quiches. Never had 64-year-old Charles Dyke ever heard a song so . . . bizarre.
"I am the eggman, I am the eggman, I am the walrus, goo goo a' joob."
The real Eggman didn't know what any of it meant, but just the same, he thought the song karmic--"good luck for me, a signal"--especially as he was hearing it only hours before he would be officially retired from the door-to-door egg delivery business.
"It's time to get out," he mumbled. But it's not the falloff in customers, or even the 13-hour days he puts in behind the wheel twice a week, that's forcing The Eggman to call it quits. It's age. "I always told myself I wouldn't be in the 'ag' business past 65," he said. "It's not like I'm gonna be lost without this."
Few of his customers, faced now with schlepping to the Safeway with the hungry masses, seemed to be coping as well yesterday. "We're heartsick," said Richard Smith, of Falls Church, a satisfied customer for more than 12 years. "It seems like the best things disappear, doesn't it?"
Smith couldn't quite believe that The Eggman was leaving. "What's left?" he asked plaintively.
Very little, was the short answer. Locally, the home-delivery milkman fell by the wayside in 1983. Neighborhood ice cream trucks grow scarcer by the day. But Dyke had pushed on into the '90s, even as Americans' consumption of eggs dropped by about 25 percent from 1959, when he started.
Simultaneously, his clientele declined from a high of 375 in the '60s, and few new ones seemed to be coming his way. "You need somebody home," he lamented, "and most of the time these days, both adults are working. It's a different way now, a faster way. . . . Back in the '50s and '60s, you had housewives home. Now they're working. Way of the world." He didn't sound sad, merely resigned.
About 10:15 yesterday morning, he made a last delivery in Fairfax County to Sidoux Mitchell, a customer of 22 years. A little red dog waddled over and sniffed Dyke's shoes. "That's Shiloh," said Mitchell as Dyke stooped to pat the dog. "Shiloh has been barking at him for 16 years. Who's Shiloh gonna have to bark at now?"
Dyke shrugged. He said nothing for a long moment, worried about whether he was falling behind on his deliveries. "Gonna have to get going," he murmured.
"He's never said a lot," Mitchell said later. "But he's always been a nice man and reliable, and you think of him as part of your life."
As the years passed, Dyke supplemented his business with offerings of chickens, sausage and bacon, fruits and vegetables, and even Thanksgiving turkeys, all of it picked up from farmers the day before.
For Smith, the quality of Dyke's products more than makes up for his slightly higher prices.
"A dozen of his eggs would go $1.30 [compared] to the markets' $1.10, say--but his yolks sit up high, and the egg whites would be really thick," Smith said. "A lot of store-bought eggs are runny, watery and flaccid. . . . All his things taste less processed. . . . He even sold trout once until the bureaucrats told him he couldn't. . . . I've never tasted healthier, fresher food. . . . I don't know where we'll go now for that kind of quality."
But more than quality and freshness, Dyke's customers lament the loss of a personal bond with someone who has become much more than a deliveryman.
Mitchell confessed she's regularly been buying two dozen eggs from Dyke even though, many weeks, with two of her children gone, she could get by on a single dozen or fewer eggs.
Her culinary requirements, she whispers, aren't at the heart of why she and others have so looked forward to The Eggman's visits over the years. "He's a kind of institution around here," she said. "And he has been good and loyal to us. His eggs are wonderful. He always has been here, rain or shine. He's part of this place."
Like the rest of them, she is mourning the end of her little slice of yesteryear. It sounds like an idyll when she talks about The Eggman. "He's kind of the best of what those days represented," she says wistfully.
CAPTION: Charles Dyke hands Sidoux Mitchell the last eggs she'll get from him. She regularly bought two dozen eggs, even when she didn't need that many.
CAPTION: Charles "The Eggman" Dyke talks to Sidoux Mitchell, a customer of 22 years. "You think of him as part of your life," Mitchell said of Dyke.