Small-Town Joys

This is what I tend to think of as an “only in Fairhope” story, but I would like to think that it could be repeated in any of thousands of small towns across America. It illustrates one of the unsuspected benefits of living in a small town.

My father died in February 2007, and his house has been sitting empty ever since, even though it has been on the market since the spring of 2008. For the first six months, Dad’s mail was forwarded to my lawyer brother in Cincinnati, who is the executor of Dad’s estate. Anything that arrived after that was presumably either returned to the sender or sent to the Dead Letter Office or discarded. So you can imagine my surprise when, in early January, I received a Christmas card/letter postmarked December 15, 2009, and addressed to my father’s Audubon Place address. It bore no signs of forwarding, nothing to indicate how it had come to be delivered to my house across town.

I had a pretty good idea what had happened, and the next time I had business at the post office, I was able to confirm it. I maneuvered, as I suspect many patrons do, to arrive at the window of the inimitable Mel Lander, postal clerk extraordinaire. After I had completed my transaction (buying four rolls of 50 stamps rather than the two rolls of 100 that I had wanted, but that’s another story), I asked Mel about this mystery. Sure enough, he said, “That was me.” He had just happened to see the envelope as it was about to be returned, plucked it out, and given it to our carrier to be delivered. Our carrier is a high school classmate of our son’s and knows us well, so presumably he didn’t need to make any notation on the envelope.

My father was a frequent postal patron, well known to all the clerks. When he died, he left such a huge supply of stamps of every conceivable denomination that, even after turning over to my brother all the full sheets and shrink-wrapped collectibles to be sold as part of the estate, I am still far from using up the stamps I inherited. I haven’t bought any stamp in a denomination higher than 10 cents in all that time (the rolls were for Rotary, not personal, use); I just keep buying ones and twos and threes and fives to supplement the 33s, 34s, 37s, etc., that Dad left. Today I was able to make up postage of $1.73 from the folder of stamps containing 80s, 60s, and 33s. So you can see why all the postal clerks knew Dad.

I’m not as lavish a patron, but I’m in the post office pretty regularly, too, so most of the clerks know me, and the ones who’ve been there long enough to remember Dad know that I am his daughter. Still, I thought it was unusually good luck that the right person happened to see this card at the right time. It had been sent by the daughter of one of Dad’s old church friends, primarily to let Dad know that her mother was now in an assisted-living facility and not entirely lucid; I was able to reply to the daughter with the news of Dad’s death and close that chapter.

Later I ran into the man who used to be the carrier on Dad’s route, and I told him this story. He is now retired, but he said that in the “good old days,” all the carriers used to get together before Christmas and pool the Christmas cards that were undeliverable because the forwarding order had expired. Often the addressee had just moved to a new address in town, and their new carrier would recognize the name and claim the mail. This was probably in violation of some obscure postal regulation, but it is this kind of “beyond the call of duty” spirit that makes it so pleasant to live in a small town.

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