We went to a community retirement party last night. Tomorrow is the last day our postmistress will clock in with the USPS. She'll still be around the community (her husband holds a prominent position here) so we will see her around, and she's promised to come down to visit us in snowbird country some cold and snowy winter season. But her retirement brings out one of the lesser known aspects of the post office in small rural communities.
Before going further, I should define what I mean by "small rural communities." These are towns that very often boast of a church, a tavern, and a small gas station/convenience store. The lucky ones still have their own schools, but overall, I'm talking about very small communities. These are the towns where everyone knows whose check is good and whose husband (or wife) isn't!
These small post offices are becoming scarce as the post office seeks to cut costs. One community down the highway is losing their Post Office. There's just not enough volume to justify the expense. Ours will be going to reduced hours soon for the same reason.
But the post office is more than just a building where you pick up your mail. It's often the information and socialization hub of the small community. It's the place where picking up your mail may take 15 or 20 minutes or sometimes more. That's not due to poor service or long lines either. The best service you'll ever get is in one of these small post offices. That's because you are friends, and occasionally related to, the people working there.
The Hartline, Washington, Post Office is housed in a historic building built around 1907. The population of the small community numbers 155 as of the 2012 Census. Photo: iStockphoto.com/Solidago
So when you mail a package, you also catch up on what's happening about the town. Not necessarily gossip but more like family members keeping up on the "daily doin's" of cousins, aunts and uncles. The chatter is about good things (you learn very quickly in a small town to be careful of what you say) and helps keep that close-knit feeling that's so special about country life.
It isn't just the person at the desk you'll be talking to either. The people coming in to get their mail are friends, neighbors and relatives, and each gets a heartfelt greeting and often a few moments of conversation. It's a pleasant, relaxed atmosphere without the frantic rush of city life.
Someone else will be at the counter on Monday. Things will be different than they were before but in many ways, they'll be the same. There will still be a feeling of family and that, after all is said and done, is the most important part of small town life.
Find out more about living with your country neighbors in Chapter 17 (The Neighbors: Getting along with “country folk”) in the author's book, Creating the Low Budget Homestead, available in the GRIT bookstore.