The art of rural mail

I'm sorry we didn't get your mail to you, but Clarisse was on Saturday, and she wasn't sure what you meant on your note." Jack, our regular mailman, came to the desk and put down a large box overflowing with mail.

We'd been away for a week and had gotten back Saturday, so I'd asked him to drop off our mail in the woodshed. Normally, if there was too much mail, he'd just put it in the mud room, but that was something that drove Elaine, my wife of just over a year, crazy.

She was a city girl and didn't like unlocked doors: mailmen in the mud room, UPS deliverers in the hall, neighbors leaving notes on the kitchen table. "What do people think this house is?" she'd complained on more than one occasion. "Grand Central Station?" She'd only recently stopped locking the outside doors at night, so I hadn't wanted to push it.

"Please put mail in woodshed," I'd written, which seemed clear enough to me, but maybe Clarisse, too, was a city girl, just moved here, and wasn't used to our rural ways.

Rural ways was one of the things I liked best about Down East Maine. The trouble was, many of them were going the way of the horse and sleigh or the crosscut saw. Ten years ago it was the town dump, last year all the roads were renamed, and this year the general post office had seen fit to get fussy about change-of-address forms.

"It's silly," Jack said. "I know when to stuff your mailbox and when to put it in the hall. If you're going away for a while, I know to hold it for you. In fact...."

"Please," I said. "Don't trouble yourself about it." Jack was far too valuable an asset to allow him to get upset. "Just give me the form."

Before Jack, I'd never been particularly fond of mailmen. The one in Long Island, N.Y., in fact, had been impossible. "You're going to have to move your mailbox to the main road, Mr. Trowbridge," he said to me one day, as he spun his wheels in the gravel of our driveway with his fancy new Jeep. "It's a dangerous situation here."

He was referring to the fact that part of the driveway was down to the larger boulders, having been eroded somewhat by the rains. I was planning to throw some gravel on it, of course, but he didn't give me that opportunity. His was an ultimatum, not a request. If I wanted my mail delivered, I had to move my mailbox to the road.

Jack was the opposite. Not only did he use proper judgment when dealing with mail, he added postage to my letters when I underestimated their weight, accepted change in lieu of stamps, sold me stamps when requested, and chatted and gossiped as if he had nothing better to do whenever I was out there to meet his truck.

He drove his own truck, by the way, and because it was a regular, driver-on-the-left vehicle, he'd invented a Rube Goldberg device to elongate his right arm. So deft had he become, he could operate a cherry picker with it.

I was going to have to work on this mail-delivery thing, I realized, as I staggered into the house with my load. Like Elaine, I had been brought up in the city, but I'd been living in the country a long time. I'd learned what Robert Frost calls "The need of being versed in country things." But Elaine still needed coaxing.

The woodshed seemed fine to me for deliveries - or the hall; but perhaps the mud room would be better. I could install a buzzer next to the front door and put a chair in the mud room with a sign on it. That should do it. At least I hoped so.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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