Lessons Learned as a Mailman

Be kind to your mail person, especially this time of year. Mail delivery is one of the many services we often take for granted. I don’t, however. For 4 summers and 3 Christmases I worked as a mailman. It was a job I greatly enjoyed. This was in the days before mail delivery was done by truck. At that time the mail person walked the route. Yes, there were dogs and, yes, there were grumpy customers. But in general I loved it, in part because of some lessons learned.

I have many images from those times. An old coal miner sitting on his porch, attached to an oxygen machine, explaining to me that he had black lung disease. He seemed to be waiting. A young mother with a child asking me to check through my bag to see if her welfare check was there so that she could get to the bank before it closed (I found it!). The remnants of a coal miners village, what they called the Patch.

But what also has stayed with me are some random acts of kindness.

One summer day it was cold and rainy. I was miserable as I stepped into a small family restaurant, hoping to get a cup of coffee to warm up. The waitress behind the counter brought me the coffee and asked “Would you like a bowl of pastafazool?” I honestly admitted that I paid for the coffee with my last quarter. She smiled and said “Oh no! It’s on the house.” To this day, I can smell and taste what may be the greatest bowl of soup ever. The garlic! The tomato sauce! The oregano! The noodles! A young college kid learning kindness through a memorable bowl of pastafazool.

The second story is a Christmas story that I shared hear some years ago. But a good story is worth re-telling. It was snowing and windy cold when I stepped into an apartment building where the mail was to be delivered to several mail boxes. An old man stood by waiting. I ignored him as I went about my business. Then he spoke something I couldn’t quite hear. “Great!” I thought. “probably complaining because I am running late.” Then he reached into his pocket and took out the type of small microphone used by throat cancer sufferers to help them speak. Through the static I heard “Merry Christmas!” I mumbled a merry Christmas in return and as I locked up the mail boxes he added “And a Happy New Year!” I left that place touched and humbled.

It’s important at some point in your life to work in a service job. We tend to see people at their worst as any waitress, airplane flight attendant, or mail person can tell you. But at times we also get to see people at their best. I did thanks to a memorable bowl of soup and a raspy Christmas greeting.