Conversations with my Mailman
My Favorite Thing (this week)
Note: This story is presented in honor of “National Thank a Letter Carrier Day”, Saturday, February 4 2017.
My mail carrier’s name is Duane*, and our friendship began almost a year and a half ago. Based entirely on the brief, lively interactions of two people who constantly meet in a state of hurry, I wouldn’t say our relationship is particularly deep. But his route and mine converge on a routine basis, allowing for a sort of customary check-in that has quickly become one of the highlights of my day.
It’s amusing to consider just how many conversations I had with the man before I actually knew his name. Duane is at least 6 foot 4, and built like a power forward — his disposition is not menacing in the slightest, so his size does not render an imposing figure so much as one that is constantly on the move. In the early days, I gave him his space entirely out of respect for a man who clearly had much to do and not a lot of time in which to do it.
The opportunity for introductions arrived one afternoon when I paused to hold the door for him while he clambered up the steps to my apartment building, underneath at least four stacked and loaded plastic bins. I offered my name, and he provided his along with a firm handshake despite his considerable cargo. “Number 143, right?” he said.
Allow me to introduce you to someone who knows considerably more about you than you probably realize. Despite our advancements in the digital age, a significant portion of our correspondence is obviously still handled via post. Thus your mail carrier likely has knowledge as to the state of your affairs that is generally reserved for close family and friends. They may be clued in to financial and legal troubles in the form of past-due notices or your hobbies and interests based on your magazine subscriptions. They’re aware of the birth of a child, or the passing of a loved one, and they just might share in the joy of an engagement or wedding, or the struggle of divorce proceedings. He or she knows whether you vote, and quite possibly how you vote. And they are intimately familiar with the extent of your addiction to Amazon Prime. We needn’t worry — they adhere to a strict code of professional conduct that demands the utmost in confidence and discretion — nonetheless, they’re privy to a host of important personal details about those they serve, and the sensitive nature of that responsibility is one to which they apply enormous care and handling. The next time you retrieve your mail, take note of how the stack is organized. Personally addressed letters and cards are likely placed on top, bills and junk mail underneath. A considerate gesture, repeated thousands of times per day, six days a week.
I have since had the opportunity to better observe and appreciate Duane’s presence and influence within the community. He is a neighborhood fixture, much like Mr. McFeely, albeit with far more panache. I’ve run into him at Trader Joe’s, grabbing lunch on the fly — seen him at the library, fist-bumping middle schoolers — even at the barber shop, where he pops in daily to heckle the geezers about sports, politics, and whatever else. Our conversations, while still brief, have definitely grown more intricate— I’ve learned that he is a veteran of the US Marine Corps, and actually spent several years playing for the USMC championship basketball team. His many tours of duty took their toll — particularly on his knees — but he credits twenty-plus years working his postal route on foot with keeping him healthy and spry. He’s raised two boys; his eldest is just now preparing to enter the Air Force on a medical scholarship. He is a bona-fide sports fanatic, and frequently crosses paths with many Bay Area professional athletes, including several of his beloved Golden State Warriors, and he has the selfies to prove it. He has watched Walnut Creek, CA grow from a small hillside suburban town into a sprawling hillside suburban city — and despite the increased traffic, longer routes, and ever-growing delivery volumes, he rarely takes more than one day off per week. He approaches nearly every facet of his work with a humble enthusiasm that I admire greatly and try to emulate; after all, how many people can say honestly after 20 years that they still love their job?
As a society, we actually do a pretty decent job of showing thanks to our service professionals. Having been on the receiving end of these displays of gratitude for much of my career, I can say with confidence that they go a long way — after all, the decision to make one’s living by improving the lives of others is typically a conscious one, and it sure is nice to know that those efforts are appreciated. This week, the mail carriers have their day, and I’m going to do my best to buy Duane lunch, though it will probably have to be at Trader Joes, since I doubt I’ll be able to get him to sit down for more than a few minutes.
*I have no idea if this is how he spells it.
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