The Way We Were….(USPS)

Recently a memory from the past surfaced. Two daughters of friends in Watonga talked on the phone and connected. Her father was my High School Principal. My new friend found Mother’s first published book of poems, “Stand Tall“, that contained clippings from the past. One of the treasures was a tiny booklet – “Season’s Greetings From Your Retiring Mail Carrier“.

Immediately I remembered typing at the dining room table in Clinton, a list of names that would be on Dad’s rural mail route in Clinton. Strange names – that would become like family names before long. As I re-read this farewell, I am again astonished at how God gives us opportunities to live out our faith where He places us.

Servants, respectfully obey your earthly masters but always with an eye to obeying the real master, Christ. Don’t just do what you have to do to get by, but work heartily, as Christ’s servants doing what God wants you to do. And work with a smile on your face, always keeping in mind that no matter who happens to be giving the orders, you’re really serving God. Good work will get you good pay from the Master, regardless of whether you are slave or free. Ephesian 6:5-8

…..So Long Folks…. begins the story.
“October 16, 1945 was a cool, clear day of autumn. My 1938 ‘Chevy’ was filled and waiting as my assistant was waiting (Mom). I made my first run of Rural Route Number One out of Watonga, Oklahoma. With maps in hand we read and drove. The 73 miles seemed endless and rough. Notes that read, ‘turn west to A.F. West’ and ‘south in Southerd’ made the learning easier. It took about a week before the miles shortened and became familiar and my assistant stayed at home. The maps were left in the office and I was really on my own.”

“My old chevy had been a good car in its day. The miles that dipped through steep canyons, over sand-topped hills, and crossed into bottoms, truly tested its metal. Soon I realized that I must have a new car. This was quite a problem during those years of wartime. I finally purchased a ‘number’ on a waiting list from the man who did not have to earn his living on wheels. How I rued the day I bought that vehicle! I was a proud owner that first week, and then – the wiring burned out. The shock links gave no end of trouble. The rear end fell to pieces. The transmission burned out. The motor had to be replaced. The old joke about ‘everything new but the steering wheel’ was not very funny.”

“Just to keep the car on the road, I paid a flat fee of fifty dollars a month to the garage. It was in the shop every day, before and after the route. The ‘taste’ of that car stayed with me through all these years.”

“Walking and working on the streets of Clinton for years, I could name most people by their first names. It was strange and lonely to live in a world ‘peopled with metal boxes’. But it was not too long before the names on the boxes became faces and real people. Farmers have a friendliness that is not known on city streets. Their warming courtesies soon crept into my heart. Families fell into place – this man was a son to the farmer on the next mile; the farmers down the road had married sisters; some had children in college; and some had parents living with them.”

“The way my patrons shared with garden produce not only fed us, but warmed our hearts as well. Through the years we have written many heart-felt ‘Thank-you’ notes and I am sure we have missed many more. Then at Christmas time, we were bowed in humility with all the remembrances showered on us. Not only with gifts but with friendship and helpfulness they became much more than patrons on the route.”

“The business of being a mail carrier has its problems as well as its joys. Cars break down; bridges wash out; snow piles deep; a package is misplaced; and nerves are frayed. The man who said, on a lovely day in spring, “Son, you earn your money real easy-like“; was the same man who told me, ‘‘I wouldn’t have your job for love nor money” on a cold, winter’s day when snow had piled high. A civil servant does not meddle in politics, but be sure, he does appreciate a sign in the middle of a half-mile water puddle that reads, ‘Commissioner’s swimming pool‘ just before the election.”

“Besides the beauty and peace of the countryside, I cannot begin to count the many things that I have received in my daily rounds. The lady of the house insists I sit down to a good meal after walking back a mile for a tractor when I was stuck in the canyon again…..The newly-graded bottomless corner had stalled me again after a spring rain. I sat a moment trying to figure a way out of that mud. As I opened the car door, I saw a jeep literally flying down the road. The young farmer had seen me from across the mile and came to help…The snow was blinding white and and treacherous. I was stalled a mile and a half from anywhere. When I pulled my way into a warm farm kitchen, the lady insisted on dry clothing and a cup of hot coffee before she allowed her husband to start the tractor to help me out of drifts….Tales like these could be recounted over and over. Then there were the many little things – a message relayed to a worrying wife; a band aid for a scratched; a cup of coffee; a cooling drink in the heat; a packages of garden or flower seeds; a started plant; or, just a friendly, “Hi” in a hard day. Each deed lives on in kindness done for me.”

“A a rural carrier, I have always been glad to help those in need, it has only seemed a process of trying to repay favors done for me. Canned milk was delivered for a baby during a blizzard; word was sent to a farmer that his daughter was left alone with an abscessed tooth. a car was started for a lady so that she could make her club meeting. Utility bills were paid in town. A sick cow was oil-flushed. First aid was applied to a little girl with an injured foot. Baby chickens were placed in warm brooders upon request. Fires in car and truck were extinguished. Aid was given to a family at a fatal tractor accident”

One day the radiator hose broke and the car became hot. A friend came by and with tape we fixed the hose and with his car, we drove to the next farmer’s house. He was not at home, but we used a watering can by the barn, took water from the faucet, and soon resumed my duties. A few days later the sheriff came to our house. It seemed someone had stolen that farmer’s saddle. There were tire tracks right to the barn – and footprints, too. Since my report coincided with my friend’s story, I escaped arrest for saddle theft. To this day, however, my friend and I greet each other with, ‘How are you, you old saddle thief?‘”

“Humor on the the route comes day by day – often in the notes left in the box for the mailman. The very best one started with, ‘My derest maleman‘ written by a young girl. Grandma, living alone, was so appreciative and left this – ‘Here’s the penny I owe you and thank you for your kindnesses to an old woman.’ On the back of a soil conservation letter came this one – ‘See the red banner on the stick by the corner post? That is where I think it would best for all to put the mail boxes. If you want the responsibility of putting it somewhere else, please move the stake to that position.’ A little boy’s note read” ‘Please, stop at the house, I have something for you.’ That was a baby rabbit! Right after Halloween, I found this one in a neighboring box, ‘If we get any mail put it in this box. The kids ran off with our box.’ ‘Leave four 3-cent stamps. I’d appreciate your putting the stamps on these letters. I’m tired of waiting (ha ha!)'”

“The budding of a new romance does not necessarily wait for spring. Letters became frequent and the replies are often perfumed. The blush of a waiting lass at the box only makes the sign more sure. Soon there will be wedding invitations to mail…. Then begins the round of parcel post as wedding presents are delivered from far and wide. We have always enjoyed the ‘route weddings’ – to see them off to a new life and to wish them well. Then follows a quiet time of letters from the young married children to their parents until the happy day when the farmer’s wife sometimes leaves a note in the box. “We’re grandparents now. Thought you might like to know.”

“Through the years many patrons and friends have left the route. In looking back over records, the names have changed so much. Houses are vacant and falling into decay; the road is longer between boxes. Yes, some patrons move to the City to a better job, but many leave for an eternal home after earthly chores are done. I miss them in my rounds, but I know they are missed so much more by the loved ones left behind. It turns my thoughts homeward.”

“It has been a privilege to be your carrier for almost two decades. Pleasant memories and friendship will be remembered through the years. Retirement time has been set for December 30, 1963. The routine of well-traveled roads will be changed in new and untried pathways. We both say, “Thank you and may God bless you all.”

H.B. and Ann


One Comment

  1. Thanks for the great story. That's one thing I miss about my grandma–all the stories she would tell and write.

    I didn't know you lived in Oklahoma. Hearing all those town names made me smile since they're all so familiar to me. Watonga was even our biggest rival in sports!

    Hope you're having a great week!

Comments are closed.