Going Postal Can be the Highlight of my Day
Growing up outside of town, our mail was delivered to our box out by the road. Though I enjoyed checking it, the occasions when I would get to accompany my grandmother to the post office in downtown Oneonta were incomparable. The neat rows of little mailboxes, shiny in some spots and worn in others, the newest commemorative and limited edition stamps displayed on the walls in their plexiglass cases, and the smell of paper (or at least what I thought were the smell of paper) all delighted my senses. When we went to a service window to retrieve a package or conduct some other transaction, the courteous postal employees seemed the model of knowledge, efficiency and professionalism. There was a mystique about the whole system, even with zipcodes. How all of these letters, cards, gifts, books and packages wrapped in brown paper managed to go from our town to places all around the world held an aura of mystery to my childhood self. One year I decided I had to get my Mom a Ginsu for Christmas (for a view of that famous television ad that seduced me, click here). My grandmother took me to the post office, let me buy the stamp and money order, and address the envelope for it all by myself. Four to six weeks later while wrapping not only this amazing knife from the orient but six matching steak knives and a magic vegetable peeler through the miracle of our postal system, I felt like I had taken my first step into the adult consumer world.
Many steps later I began to lose my awe of the postal service (along with the naivete that led me to believe my mother actually needed a utensil that could cut through a tin can and immediately slice paper-thin tomato slices afterwards). The degree of pleasure I gained from going to the post office fell in tandem. There were now long lines of surly people. No one seemed excited about what they were picking up or sending. The indifferent employees behind the counter seemed to care even less. The characterizations of postal employees on television and film didn’t help the case. For every good role model, like Reba, the sassy mailperson from Pee Wee’s Playhouse, there seemed to be a Cliff Clavin from Cheers or a Newman from Seinfeld. Depictions of the profession in popular culture however, probably reached their nadir with this man.I personally blame Kevin Costner’s egregious performance in The Postman to be the catalyst spurring the mass exodus from paper to email.
My faith in the institution was nearly irrevocably shaken until I moved to Germantown. Things are different here, although it took me a while to notice. My mail lady Helen always brings my packages up to the porch, and smiles and waves hello when driving by, and adds smiley faces to her notes. As much as I like her, more enjoyable are the occasions when I go to the Germantown post office, located smack dab in the middle of Main Street.Although the building itself is architecturally undistinguished, it’s what goes on inside that counts. One is greeted by small rows of post boxes upon entering, just like post office from my childhood. Next to the door is a bulletin board, filled with notices, flyers and cards for local events, services and jobs. Neighbors come and go, seldom failing to greet each other or exchange some quick gossip. To the right of the door is the counter. When someone is not there, a quick press of the jingly little counter-top bell brings forth an employee. To a one they are friendly, efficient and professional, again remarkably similar to the ones I remember as a child. I have to admit I do have a favorite though. When I ring the bell, I always hope Cheryl Minkowitz will come out.Cheryl Minkowitz Soft spoken, she radiates a peaceful aura, always has a smile and a genuine interest in what you are doing. She reminds me of Grace Snider, Walnut Grove’s kindly Postmistress who married Mr Edwards on Little House on the Prairie. As such, I was curious to know a little more about her. Although very self-effacing and shy when it comes to talking about herself, she recently answered some questions I had for her. She has been living in the area for nearly three decades, and has worked for the post-office a good portion of that time. When asked what she liked best about the community, like many of us, she cited the lack of traffic, the local clubs, activities, churches, and open spaces of our town. When I asked her what she likes most about the people she interacts with on a daily basis, she simply said
I then asked if she noticed any changes in the types of people who have come there over the years, wondering about the inherent differences between newcomers and old timers, weekenders and full-timers. She looked at me a little quizzically, and simply said no. I felt slightly foolish, while at the same time understanding why an interaction with her at the post office is one of those small, often inexplicable, and seldom identifiable experiences that contributes towards one having a pleasant day.