It saddens me to think of what would be lost if the post office in my parents’ hometown closed just to save some money. My parents’ hometown is a small rural town that hugs the bluff of the Missouri River. Everyone who lives within the city limits must visit the post office to get their mail, where all residents have a post office box rather than curbside delivery.
On a recent visit, as I was coming out of the local post office, an old man smiled and said “Good Morning” as I passed within a few inches of him on the sidewalk. I did not know who he was at first and he did not know who I was, only that I was coming out of the post office, which meant that I deserved to be acknowledged as a member of the human race.
I appreciated the old man’s initiative and willingness to make a connection with a fellow human being without having to determine if she was friend or foe before doing so. Too often back home in Minnesota, those I encounter who are walking their dogs or jogging through the neighborhood ignore me, even though they come within a few feet of my presence. My mother noticed this phenomenon as well when she visited several years ago, which did nothing to endear her to Minnesota.
As I passed the old man and got a better look at him, I realized that he was not a stranger at all. He was the father of my childhood best friend. I stopped him and asked him if he knew who I was. He said he wasn’t sure so I introduced myself. He then expressed his condolences for my dad’s recent passing and we went our separate ways.
When I was a kid, a visit to this same post office to get my grandmother’s mail provided an opportunity to stop at the drug store to buy some candy or get a milkshake. Now as an adult, I realize a trip to the post office was and is an opportunity to make connections to people that I might not other wise run into.
Back home in Minnesota, getting the mail consists of walking to the curbside mailbox from my front door, an exercise where I rarely run into a neighbor doing the same. I do not know the name of my regular carrier or what he looks like, as I rarely go to the box at the time of delivery. Even though I have lived in Eden Prairie for nine years, I am familiar with the faces of the clerks at the post office only because post office employment is consistent, in contrast to other businesses I frequent where employee turnover is the constant. In my parents’ hometown, I know the Postmaster by name.
Visiting my parents’ hometown multiple times in the last year in order to settle their estate has given me a glimpse into a part of America where people care for others in a sincere and palpable way, where neighbors greet neighbors freely, and going to the post office is an opportunity to visit with random people you meet there, catch up on the local news and the real estate market, and check out the bulletin board for community notices. The post office is the one entity that endures decades after almost all of the small businesses in town have closed.
So maybe instead of closing down small post offices throughout the country, the post office needs to build more of them and stop curbside delivery to everyone except businesses and the disabled. If everyone had a post office box at a small local post office, they would have to make visits to a common place at a frequency they could choose. (Each location could be set up with tables and shredders so people could sort through their mail and place the junk mail in the shredder.) Not only would this save the post office money, it could help save the environment. More importantly, as people became more familiar with the faces of their fellow neighbors, they might feel less intimidated about simply saying “Good Morning” to each other as they passed each other on the sidewalk.