Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Are You Listening, Uncle Sam?

Are You Listening, Uncle Sam?
“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” In my formative years, that level of service was what the post office meant. Ah, sweet memories of a by-gone era.

Uncle Sam, in his dubious wisdom, is locking the doors of many of our rural and small town post offices. The thought of such misfortune strikes terror in my heart. While Harlem is not on the immediate closure list, ours is a very small town. We never know when the ax will fall.

Our post offices here in rural north-central Montana are the life-blood of our communities, our neighborhood centers.

Why, one day when I was in the post office, I met Renee and Dorothy in the lobby. We exchanged greetings, talked about our garden club and shared news about a mutual friend who is in the hospital.

At that point our mayor came through the door from the counter. He held a sheet of stamps with red hearts, leftovers from February. (I like stamps with roses, myself.)

“Hi, Bill,” said Renee. “We were just discussing it. Don’t you agree?”

Mayor Bill is quick on his feet, “Mmmm, yes, I do agree. And then again, I don’t. I just came in to buy stamps for my wife, so I don’t know if I should agree or not. What are we agreeing to?”

“It. We were just discussing ‘it’,” repeated Renee. Dorothy and I grinned.

“Oh, ‘it’. Yes, in that case, I do agree. I am definitely for ‘it’.” Bill nodded and joined our laughter.

Caught up in our brilliant conversation, we realized we were blocking the doorway. With farewell smiles and hugs we dispersed to carry on with our busy days.

Another time this same week I met Mary John coming out of the post office. We discussed health, relatives, and the upcoming Prom for which Mary was prepping a grandson. I had been thinking about calling Mary to have lunch, but I had not picked up the phone. Here at our community center/post office I invited her, face to face, to join me at Deb’s for a burger.

This morning while I was struggling with three boxes, a bag and my regular mail, a woman, a stranger to me, hurried over and offered to help. Gratefully, I accepted. Together we lugged my heavy boxes to my van. I opened the back door and we muscled them inside. I thanked her and we continued talking. She mentioned she planned to drive to Billings that afternoon. We searched the clouds for snow. Together we considered the wisdom of her trip. It is a long, long dangerous road when it snows. All weekend I will be thinking about her, hoping she is safe. I wish I had asked her name.

My Grandmother always told me that if I could, I would cut off my nose to spite my face. I like to think I have outgrown that characteristic, but our postal service seems bent on similar self destruction. If I had to drive twenty miles to Chinook or, worse, forty-two miles to Havre to find a post office, my visits would be few and far between. As it is I spend money at my post office every day, sometimes twice a day. It adds up to quite a bit of money. I would be forced to find other ways to ship packages and mail letters. I am not a financial wizard, but this makes no sense to me. How can the postal service make more money by cutting service?

But I digress. Let’s get back to the community center aspect. Everybody goes to the post office. I like to go to the post office. How else can I keep my social life active? Sometimes I get out of there in ten minutes; sometimes it takes an hour. The post office is a place where neighbor greets neighbor, friend meets friend, where business is conducted, lunches arranged, plans discussed and mail picked up. Where else is there a bulletin board on which we can tack up announcements of community events and dispense vital information that everybody is likely to see? Where else can we buy stamps with hearts and flowers?

So maybe our post offices out here on the edge of the world do not make a lot of money. But hear this, Uncle Sam, close them and you rip the heart out of our towns.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out our back door
March 29, 2012

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