By ERIN O’BRIEN
I love a man in a uniform.
As a kid growing up in a Los Angeles suburb, in first grade I befriended Charlie the Mailman. When I’d see him headed towards my house …
By ERIN O’BRIEN
I love a man in a uniform.
As a kid growing up in a Los Angeles suburb, in first grade I befriended Charlie the Mailman. When I’d see him headed towards my house pushing his mail cart, I’d interrupt my after school play to join him for awhile on his route. I’m not sure what we talked about, but when it was time for him to cross the street, I’d wave goodbye; it was time for me to walk home.
Charlie’s mail cart might contain a postcard from Aunt Margaret in Chicago, or an envelope with family photos inside, or maybe the Sears Catalog. I was blissfully unaware of bills or junk mail then.
One day it occurred to me that Charlie the Mailman might like some mail, too. I wrote him a note and sealed it in an envelope, but not before including a large store-bought cookie with sugar sprinkled on top.
I played on my front lawn that afternoon, in an anticipatory state, as if company was coming. Charlie and his mail cart soon appeared in the distance. I ran inside the house to retrieve my envelope from the kitchen counter. All of the sugar seemed to have migrated to the bottom of the envelope.
When Charlie saw me, he stopped his cart on the sidewalk in front of my hose as I presented him with my envelope. He seemed genuinely surprised to find a cookie inside the lumpy envelope. He read my letter, smiled down at me, and paid me the highest compliment: my printing was even better than his son’s, and I was only in first grade, and his son was in second grade. I felt like I’d just received a gold star on top of my composition paper.
In honor of Charlie, I’ve kept the tradition of a treat for the mailman. In California, a wily squirrel who lived in our pine tree hopped down onto our porch after discovering how to open the mailbox, which was attached to our house. I perfected my packaging to make it squirrel-proof.
Here, when the red flag is up on my mailbox it doesn’t always indicate outgoing mail, but might signal a treat inside. When Mike the Mailman drives by, if he sees me taking my walk, he calls out, “Thanks for the pastries!” with a wave. If I’m home, he waves a hello in the direction of my kitchen window.
I’ve seen Mike the Mailman on his route in his little mail truck during lashing rainstorms, high winds, and maneuvering snow drifts. If a package is marked “fragile” he walks it to the shelter of my back porch.
His day begins early, and when I’m out, I’ll occasionally see his truck. He recognizes my car and waves in greeting. I know I’ll see his truck on my street, right around 3:00 PM.
Steve isn’t a mailman, but my friendly mail clerk. I consider all the letters and packages that must pass through his hands: Valentines, wedding invitations, graduation announcements, sympathy cards, wills, income taxes, Christmas gifts, and college care packages. He treats each piece of mail with the utmost care. He knows the most efficient way to mail a particular package. He’s as genuinely happy to see the next customer in line at 5:00 PM, as if it was still 9:00 AM. I decided Steve the Mail Clerk deserved a treat, too.
Steve always greets me by name. Last winter I’d arrived at the Warwick Post Office in my coat, hat, scarf, sunglasses, and face mask, and he said with a smile, “Even all bundled up, I know it’s you, Erin.” He seems to know many of his customers.
On his counter he has a bucket of lollipops for the children, and a bucket of dog treats, just in case. After each transaction he asks if I need any postal supplies, such as stamps or money orders. The day something got in my contact lens, he gave me a small cup of cold water. After waiting on me, he asked if I needed any postal supplies, such as stamps, money orders, or saline solution, with a smile.
I’ve observed him assist his fellow mail clerks, and mention a coworker with praise. Despite the number of the customers in line, or the amount of packages on the counter, he maintains a Zen-like countenance.
On one visit I brought him some freshly picked blueberries. He was very touched, and thanking me, placed them next to a giant size Kit Kat candy bar, and a plate of homemade cookies. Others had already left their offerings that morning.
Mike the Mailman, and Steve the Mail Clerk, I’m grateful for your daily service in handling my most important papers and precious packages, sending them all over the country, and the world.
The admiration for your vocation began with a six-year-old girl in California, a long time ago, who found a friend in your colleague, Charlie the Mailman.
Editor’s Note: Erin O’Brien lives in Buttonwoods and occasionally contributes to these pages. Most recently she covered for the second time the wedding of a Cranston couple. Because of the shutdown in the spring of 2020, the first wedding was an outdoor event attended by guests who stayed in their cars. The second was this spring in Newport. Erin was thrilled to be at both ceremonies.
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