Before he was a grandfather and before he was a Dad, Grampa had many jobs.
A child of the Depression, he has told stories of earning nickels and dimes (and apples) from odd jobs at local farms. He worked for Heinz Electric for years, and then as an apprentice and journeyman printer, back when the creation of newspapers required more people than computers.
And now you are feeling all wistful for a time when a gallon of gas was 18 cents, there was a legendary snapping turtle in the swampy section of the local lake known as Bull Run, and Cracker Jack boxes yielded the types of military-themed prizes that would get your cherub tossed out of kindergarten today (it was okay back then because it was in support of the war effort).
But before you feel too much longing for Grampa’s idyllic past, you need to know something else about his work history.
When Heinz Electric closed it’s gates for good, and printing needed fewer men and more machines, Grampa had to shift gears. He drove a bus for a while and at one time had three jobs.
And then he sat for the Civil Service Exam, and passed.
And Grampa became a rural letter carrier for the United States Postal Service.
Grampa was the mailman.
And it was great.
He knew everyone in the small town he grew up in. He checked in on the elderly and shut-ins. He stopped every day, at the same time, at a local lunch spot for a couple of hot dogs fixed just he way he liked them. And, for most of every day, he was on his own, which was good.
Because Grampa was an old Yankee man even when he was a young Yankee man.
Let’s just say the sharing of his rather strong opinions on how, when, and why things should be done – in the exact ways that Grampa thinks they should be done – is not limited to close family and friends.
So, for more than twenty years, Grampa was the mailman.
And, just about the time he retired, he and Granny sold their house in the town he grew up in and moved with me and my nearly perfect husband to the town next door.
The much smaller town next door.
When we moved in, Dunstable had about 1,850 people. “Everybody knows everybody” (and everyone knows everyone’s business) was not a figurative statement.
And I didn’t really think much about the impact of Grampa’s last career choice on my life and reputation in our new, small New England town.
Until we needed a mailbox.
There are guidelines for putting up your mailbox.
Grampa. Loves. Guidelines.
And Grampa loves to talk about guidelines that he knows.
Did you ever get invited by your Dad to go out and change the oil in the car, or ‘work on’ the engine (which really meant hold the tools for him, surgical nurse style, handing him what he needed when he needed)? Ever hand your dad the wrong tool as oil was spewing from the oil pan into his eyes and all over his face?
Remember that sense of failure, humiliation (and the desire to run and hide just about anywhere to escape his wrath?)
If we didn’t get that mailbox exactly where it needed to be, we were sunk for sure.
I’m not exactly sure what would happen to us, because Grampa never really explained the consequences, but I’m pretty sure the guys from the Postal Service ate lunch with the guys from the Internal Revenue Service.
And maybe the Army Rangers.
So between the potential of an IRS audit, looking down one night and seeing a little red laser dot dancing over my heart, or – gasp – having to retrieve my letters from the post office in person, I knew we had to get that mailbox set up, to code, as soon as possible.
And so did Grampa.
So he went to the post office on a Friday, shortly after we moved into the house, to talk to the local Postmaster.
“Because of varying road and curb conditions, the Postal Service™ recommends that you contact your local postmaster for approval of the location of your mailbox before you put it up.” (U.S. Postal Service Guidelines. I copied it. Look – there’s even a little “TM” by Postal Service. You can’t just say ‘Postal Service’ if you’re just anyone. Not with that ‘TM’ there. It’s the law.)
And Grampa asked if there were any special considerations for putting a mailbox up in Dunstable. And the Postmaster said to come back on Monday.
So Grampa went back on Monday, and came back and was spitting nails because the answer was ‘No, there are no special considerations for putting up a mailbox in Dunstable’. Grampa was spitting nails because they could have told him that on Friday.
Now, I’m not really sure what happened on Friday or on Monday, but considering he talked to the same person on Friday and on Monday, it’s either extremely funny that the Dunstable office of the United States Postal Service is so governmenty that they have a rule that says, ‘Friday is not the day that you can answer questions about mailbox placement’ (complete with a rule number like MBP.304.33), or that Grampa went in all quotey about U.S. Post Office regulations and managed to either talk over someone and get the information provided to him wrong, or simply piss off a civil servant who told him to come back on Monday.
Either way, when he came back on Monday he was complaining loudly about the incompetence of this new post office and Postal Service (TM) as compared to the pillar of a Postal Service (TM) and Post Master that he used to work for (and who had rather precipitously risen in Grampa’s esteem since he retired and moved).
So we put our mailbox in, according to the regulations (the box would be located 41 – 45 inches above the ground and 6 – 8 inches from the curb (or where the dirt meets the road in Dunstable as we are decidedly curb phobic in this town and don’t have many of them for that reason)).
But Grampa’s feud with the post office continued.
Every single time we got a notice in our mailbox that a package was waiting for us at the post office, Grampa got in his car and drove straight there.
If the package didn’t fit in the mailbox, Grampa measured it and had it weighed.
Then he quoted the exact regulation that said that, if a package doesn’t fit in the mailbox, a letter carrier has to deliver a package of a certain size and weight to the house as long as the house is within a certain distance from the road.
I’m sure it is a shock to you that Grampa measured the distance from our house to the road on more than one occasion.
Sometimes he brings his hand annotated, dog-eared, highlighted copy of the Rural Carriers union newsletter or handbook, just to make his point.
These trips to educate our Post Master – in person – did not just happen occasionally. This has gone on – and continues to go on (except right now because Grampa can’t drive because he broke his freakin’ neck) – sometimes more than once a month, since 1993.
A few years ago, I was heading down to the mailbox when the mailman drove up. We exchanged pleasantries and he joked with me that the package he was handing me was the right size and weight so he could deliver it himself, and he nodded up toward the house, where Grampa – who has bionic hearing when (and only when) the mail truck is approaching our mailbox – was making his way down the driveway.
I tried to smooth things over by saying, “Aw, don’t worry about him. He really likes you.”
Our mailman crunched his eyebrows together.
“He calls me Donkey.”
Grampa refers to our mailman as ‘that donkey’.
As in, “That Donkey doesn’t know how to deliver the mail and if I have to go down to the God-damned Post Office one more time…”
Clearly, Grampa wasn’t curbing his enthusiasm for colorful language in the six minutes it takes to get from our house to the post office.
This is why we get pitying looks from both our mailman and the Postmaster when we either retrieve our mail from the mailbox or go into the post office.
This is also why we leave great tips and prizes in the mailbox during the holidays.
Thanks for readin’
p.s., as always, if you’d like to comment, head on over to the Just Ponderin’ facebook page and have at it! – Lisa