Men like Arthur and Mortimer

On cook's night out we went again to the Spinnaker, which had haddock this time, and there was merriment in the salon de reception. There, too, was Eleanor , our mail lady (what doth the purifier with a mail lady?), and she told us a little retirement party was being held for Arthur Anderson. I have never considered retirements occasions of joy, and I have never offered congratulations to the guests of honor. There need be no sadness of farewell, either, but I think it's wrong to jump up and cheer when somebody goes down the drain. Particularly Arthur. ''HIM?'' I chirped.

''Well - he's fifty-five!''

Arthur is - was - postmaster at neighboring Thomaston (04861) and our R.F.D. mail lady was there as an esoteric member of the postal sodality. Arthur, in the blush and pink of early manhood, with many years of great future, had a posy in his lapel and seemed pleased. I intruded on his celebration long enough to shake his hand and lament his appointment had proved only temporary. I assume the occasion was favored by a letter from the postmaster general and another from the President, which goes to show. If they had any sense, they'd hang onto a good thing and keep Arthur going for a long time to come. We need men like him.

No doubt there are many more like him, but there are also post offices that lack the friendly warmth of the Thomaston facility as generated by Arthur. The first time I stepped in, he was behind the counter and didn't know me from Adam's off ox. But he gave me a rousing good morning anyway, as if we had been boyhood chums and had swiped apples together from the Widow Gleason's Hitop Sweet. Nobody ever caught Arthur twice, and the next time I stepped in he had done his homework and called me by name. By this genial policy, he kept me and everybody else in pleasant cahoots, and we all worked assiduously for the good of the postal service and the welfare of mankind. It is a shame that a good man of his perceptions is moved along while he still has much to offer and might stay on and on and solve some problems.

Thinking this way, I recollected Mortimer MacFadden, who was postmaster in my youth, but in quite another office, who also had his kindly ways and is memorable. Then, there was no post office counter, but a window and wicket, and the window was always closed while the incoming mail got sorted. Townsfolk would gather to wait for the window to open, and the morning witan made a fine start on another small-town day. Mortimer, out back sorting, kept an ear tuned to the lobby, and didn't miss much. Judge Jack used to come in and fill his two huge Waterman fountain pens from the inkwells provided, which Mortimer filled daily. One day the inkwell was dry and the judge accused Mortimer of forgetting. ''I didn't forget,'' rebuked Mortimer, and after that a local pleasantry had to do with the morality of a judge who steals ink. ''Federal offense!'' Mortimer would say. Bob Munsey and Dick Tabor would always make one thrust of odds-and-evens to see which would stand in line ahead of the other when the window opened. When Dr. Plummer came in, which wasn't every morning, he would soon have politics wide open, as he was a Henry George single-taxer. There'd be at least ten or a dozen on hand each morning, and whatever went on in the way of news and banter and politics would come to a full stop when Mortimer threw open the window and said, ''Next!''

The nicest thing I remember about that post office gathering was the running deference to Willy. Willy lived before reformists thought up better words, so in his time he was first a pauper, and then a feeble-minded pauper. He was ''on the town.'' Not even a baby in his abilities, he was a man in his fifties. He took to coming into the post office while the window was closed, and he liked the good greeting he got from everybody. ''Mornin', Willy!'' from one and all. Then he would wait for his mail, but of course there was never any mail for Willy.

For a couple of weeks or more, when he first began to come in, it was sad to see Willy turn away from the window and go along home. Then, one morning, Willy stepped to the window, and Mortimer said, ''There you are, Willy,'' and Willy had a newspaper. What that did for Willy was worth seeing, I tell you!

The paper was what the postal people call a ''nixy.'' No address. It was a Polish-language newspaper printed in Pennsylvania, and a nixy came every day. Mortimer would write ''Willy'' on it before he opened the window. Wasn't that good?

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