November 16, 2007

The Mailman (Sketch #4)

Category: News — Ira @ 7:16 pm

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“Carrier of news and knowledge, Instrument of trade
and industry, Promoter of mutual acquaintance, of
peace and good-will among men and nations.”
—Charles William Elliot
___________________________________________

A typical summer morning in my childhood. After breakfast. The day drifting lazily into what might come. We played, raggedy and carefree, barefoot and bareheaded in the grass and sunlight. Around 9:30, we scanned the road. Anticipating. Then the car popped over the little hill at Neighbor John’s, half a mile to the west. Stopped briefly, turned north toward the print shop and beyond. About ten minutes later, it came zooming back, turned left toward our house. We were the next stop. Those who had business to conduct ambled toward the road. The children clustered in, well, just because something was happening. Sometimes a small group of us gathered. The car approached and slowed, then slid to crunching halt by our large metal mailbox. The driver reached through the window, smiling, with a big rubber-banded bundle of letters and magazines.

His name was George Randall, and he was our mailman. He was an important figure in my childhood world, our only real connection to the great unknown outside. I remember him as a kindly man, slim, of medium stature, slightly balding, sitting in the middle of the front seat of his old reddish-tan Plymouth, steering with his left hand, accelerating and braking with his left foot. Making his daily rounds on the dusty country roads that were Rt. 4, Aylmer, Ontario. Zip code N5H-2R3.

George dearly loved to linger for a bit of gossip. He chuckled and clucked in a high scratchy voice and commented about many things. Current events. President Nixon’s troubles. Local news. The weather. Rising postage costs. In Canada, the postage rates seemed to increase about twice a year, by a few cents. Occasionally, there were postal strikes, and we would not see George for a few weeks or a month. After the strike, he came rollicking along his route as if nothing had happened. Which, come to think of it, hadn’t. At least not as far as delivering mail was concerned. After the long absences, he was always talkative and gossipy as ever.

He was very likely the first “English” man I ever conversed with. First as part of a group, then occasionally as a small boy alone, waiting for the mailman, clutching a packet of letters to hand to him. And proudly receiving the bundle of letters and news-papers he gave in return. As proudly delivering the precious cargo to the house.

I don’t know if he talked to all the Amish families as much as he did to us. Seems like he couldn’t have, or he would never have finished his rounds. His stop at our mailbox sometimes lasted as long a five minutes, although usually it was only a minute or two. And sometimes he slipped by and talked to no one. My brothers, Stephen and Titus, and I figured we had a special bond with him. He more often than not left us a free newspaper, “The St. Thomas Times-Journal.” He always had a few extra copies, and one always seemed to have our names on it. We seized it and ran with it, as the paper had a tendency to show up shorn of the sports section and the comics, once Dad got hold of it. So we made sure he didn’t. At least not until we were done with it.

We boys collected stamps, and sent away for them. George brought them to us in fat little brown envelopes. A hundred used stamps for ten cents. Many still stuck to remnants of the envelopes on which they were originally mailed. And packets of stamps on approval. Keep the ones you want. Send the rest back, the amount due for purchases paid with coins taped to the invoice. George cheerfully took everything we placed into the mailbox.

He brought us many magazines. Boy’s Life. It was a real magazine then, with real stories of real adventures. Outdoor Life. Field and Stream (where we discovered Patrick McManus, the great humorist). Fur, Fish, Game. The Sidney I. Robinson Out-door catalog, with pictures of hundreds of guns for sale. You could order them over the mail and have them shipped to you, not that we did. The Lunker Gazette, an eclectic little fishing magazine I subscribed to with a few carefully hoarded dollars. The Herter’s Great Outdoors catalog, from which I drooled over the fly fishing tackle. George faithfully delivered them all.

One of our very favorites was the Johnson-Smith Novelty catalog, which had a vast variety of gag gifts. We boys spent hours and hours dreamily paging through it. Imagining the unlimited possibilities. Whoopee cushions. “X-Ray” sunglasses. Fake noses and mustaches. Fake teeth. Fake vomit. Fake money toilet paper. Other fake stuff not fit to mention. A little round gadget that shocked the person you shook hands with. And much, much more. All for sale. All available through George.

I can’t remember ordering anything from the Johnson-Smith catalog ever, except once. I sent for a kazoo. Just hum into it, and out comes a tune, claimed the ad. Not musically inclined, I was excited about such potential to make real music. All I had to do was hum. I could do that. After many weeks, George finally delivered it one day. Excitedly, I ripped open the box and beheld my treasure. A cheap tinny little thing. After examining it suspiciously, I held it to my mouth and hummed. Sadly, it sounded more like a deflating whoopee cushion than anything else. But at least the tune was recognizable, or so I imagined.

One sunny June day, a group of us was assembled in the yard out by the mailbox as usual, talking to George. Dad, who sold books by mail, had just unloaded a wash basket full of packages into his car. Suddenly, from the east, there came a great clatter and shouting. Everyone looked up, alarmed. A team of horses hitched to a one-row cultivator came flying out of the field just east of the pond and turned west toward home, right at us. On the cultivator, hanging on for dear life, was my older brother, Stephen. He was probably about ten years old. He had been drafted to drive the team for my oldest brother Joseph, who had a habit of reading the “Reader’s Digest” while cultivating corn and could not be bothered with actually driving the team. At the end of a corn row, Joseph had stepped off the cultivator, and the horses just took off. Stephen could not control them.

Ears flattened, the horses gathered speed as they came galloping down the road right at us. Dad stepped out and frantically waved his empty wash basket in a futile attempt to stop them. They thundered right by with a great jangle of harness and clattering of steel wheels, just missing George’s car and almost trampling Dad, and kept heading west. A few hundred feet down the road, by the big oak tree, Stephen decided to abandon ship. Somehow he leaped from the wildly careening cultivator, landing on the rough gravel road. Amazingly, he was unhurt. He could easily have broken his neck. The team clattered on. He began walking bravely back to us.

Mom, who was in the group as well (it must have been a family event that morning), and wildly frantic that her son was hurt, kept calling out, “Oh, you poor boy. Are you hurt? You poor child.” Her excited concern was too much. Overwhelmed, he burst into tears.

Meanwhile, good old quick-thinking George had backed his car up into our drive. Dad threw aside his wash basket and crammed himself into the passenger’s side of the car, right on top of a large stack of undelivered mail. They sped off in a cloud of dust and overtook the runaways. Somehow George eased his car around the horses, and somehow Dad got them stopped. They were probably exhausted by then anyway. Dad drove them back. Joseph came loping along sheepishly after the crisis had passed. Naturally, these events caused a tremendous amount of excitement. George clucked about it for many weeks thereafter. I’m sure he told the story far and wide on his route. And Joseph took no more reading materials with him to the fields.

In all those years, I heard only one negative story about George. My oldest sister Rosemary, after she was married, ordered a package of something or other from a company in the United States. She waited for weeks and then months, and finally gave up that it would ever come. She figured it had gotten lost “at the border,” that mysterious place where things just vanished, never to reappear. Then one day George came trundling merrily into the drive with the package. Delighted, Rosemary told him she had given up that it would ever arrive.

“Oh,” said George, chuckling, “I’ve been kicking that box around at the post office for about four weeks.”

It was not a wise confession. Rosemary was highly indignant. George, bless his heart, thought nothing of it. With a work culture like that, it’s no wonder there were so many postal strikes.

George delivered the mail for many more years after we moved from Aylmer. I don’t know when he retired, but the last I heard, he was in his nineties and living with his son. His wife died in the early 1980s. I never considered until years later that he prob-ably had several hundred homes on his route. And that he was important to many others besides us. To me, his job was to bring us mail. Us, exclusively. His job began when he popped over the hill west of us at Neighbor John’s. It ended when he disappeared over the little knoll east of our house. My horizons and the borders of my little world were severely limited, naturally confined to the little two-square-mile area that comprised the community at the time. By faithfully performing his duties, George Randall played an important role in the early expansion of those horizons and my eventual emergence from that world.
_______________________________________________________________________

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Thanksgiving is here for one more year. Unbelievable how fast the months have flown, considering all that has transpired this year. I plan to spend part of the day at my brother Steve’s place, at least the part of the day when the biggest meal is served. And a lot of time watching football.

I am thankful and grateful for many things. The usual list, obviously. My health, my family, my home, my job. But one thing comes to mind that I am especially thankful for, a thing that was forged from the brutal pressures of the bitter events that have unfolded this year. And that is my writing and this blog. And you, my readers. I’m humbled and grateful for every one of you. And that you keep coming back. This site has now surpassed 29,000 hits, an astounding number. And while many of those are repeats each week, it is also true that each post is printed and copied and faxed and passed from hand to hand to those who have no internet access. So it is impossible to know the actual reader count.

This has been by far the most productive year, writing wise, that I have ever had. I look back and marvel that a new post was produced every Friday now since mid-April. It’s certainly not that I always felt like it. Far from it. But something was always cobbled together, somehow, on time for the Friday evening deadlines. I have never before experienced the discipline of actually doing something like this, and the sense of accomplishment feels good.

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Happy Thanksgiving to all my readers.

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(11 Comments) »

  1. George Randell was also my favorite mailman. Whenever he had a box of books for Pathway Publishers he would toot his horn long and loud and we’d run out with the wagon. The first time I came out with the wagon, he looked at me in open-mouthed wonder and finally asked, “Where in the world did you come from?” Just as quick I replied, “From the moon.” And we were the best of friends after that.

    Comment by Katie Troyer — November 16, 2007 @ 7:56 pm

  2. Like you said, George the mailman really was our link to the outside world. He was there showing us a copy of some magizine with JFK’s photo on it the day after Kennedy was shot.[63].. ‘They’re on the moon now’ He proudly told us in 69′ during the moon landing. Hey, I didn’t know you guys got newspapers off him. Daily papers were shunned at our house then. Maybe that’s why we get 2, sometimes 3 daily papers today [All on half price plans, of course]. We’re still doing catch-up, I guess.

    Thanks for your great blog.[This wk’s]. We all have lots to be thankful for, throughout the whole year.

    Comment by happy grampa jess — November 17, 2007 @ 10:16 am

  3. The free newspapers were actually a day old, left over from his paper route from the night before. Dad told him we don’t want them & to not leave any, but he knew this wasn’t true & always slipped us a copy if we were at the mailbox…Another famous line that only Waglers will apreciate was 1 nite we met George at the sale barn..He had seen Titus uptown, and said “and he was buying hockey sticks.” We chewed that one for years.

    On the famous runaway, I had contemplated jumping off on the hill east of the house, but when we crested the hill, I saw the crowd at the mailbox & knew Dad would stop the horses. They did not slow down & would have run right over him if he wouldn’t have jumped away at the last second. I can still see him waving the washbasket & yelling “WHOA WHOA.” After that there was only 1 thing left to do..jump which I did, landing directly on my head. The part about Mom comforting me is true. Oh, I remember the 1 hores’s name..Pigslop, or Pig for short.

    On another note, we are very excited to have Rudys (Wilma’s Bro) coming for Thanksgiving & yes we have much to be thankful for again this year.

    Comment by bro steve — November 17, 2007 @ 11:58 am

  4. I enjoyed this piece very much, friend Ira. It is real and true writing. Mail was a much more deliberative medium in those days before the too easy access of email and the “send” button placed the priority of haste over thought. If I had known that there would be something like faxes, electronic pages and email, I would not have become an attorney.

    Happy Thanksgiving. You are one of my definite blessings this year!

    Kent

    Comment by Kent Hansen — November 17, 2007 @ 11:09 pm

  5. Happy Thanksgiving to you too Ira! I’m thankful that you have family close by to spend at least part of the day with them. I’ve learned, since I’m one of those older singles, that you NEVER pass up a chance for great home cooked food. Our family will spend Wed. evening together before they leave in different directions on Thursday. Thanksgiving food at our house has got to be one of my favorites. I’ve felt prompted this year to make my own batch of Amish roast and mashed potatoes and fixings. I’m not sure what I will do with them all but I’m sure someone will be blessed. It will be a lot of fun for me too since I love to cook.

    Life is good – My list is too lengthy to enter here. “My cup is full and running over…”

    Ira’s response: Ahem, my blue cooler remains functional and always receptive to such things as Amish roast and mashed potatoes and fixings…..

    Comment by Judy S — November 18, 2007 @ 10:35 am

  6. Great story about the mail carrier. I was waiting to respond to this post till we had some football scores. I felt bad for your Jets till today. May their celebration be short-lived. I may even resolve to rooting for Dallas on Thur. Happy Thanksgiving and may the best team win.

    Ira’s response: Now, now, let’s not have sour grapes just because they kicked your Steelers around today. I can imagine no circumstances in which one would cheer for Dallas, unless they are playing the Eagles or the Patriots.

    Comment by Bear — November 18, 2007 @ 10:27 pm

  7. I really enjoyed your George Randell piece. Imagine my surprise last summer when I came across George’s phone no…in an old Farm and Ranch magazine. I will include it here and encourage all of you who remember to call. He is 92 and loves to visit. It is 519-773-2360. There never was another mailman in our lives like him. But we did have a great UPS man in Iowa named Keith Sammons. Other UPS drivers can’t hold a candle to him.

    Happy Thanksgiving. We all have each other, plus many more blessings. Jess has a grand daughter and the list goes on.

    Those who wish to send George a card or letter can do so at the following:
    George Randall
    100 St. Andrew Street
    Aylmer, Ontario, Canada N5H-2R3

    -Extra postage is required.

    Comment by rachel — November 18, 2007 @ 11:08 pm

  8. Happy thanksgiving, and hooray for Pat McManus!

    Comment by jason yutzy — November 19, 2007 @ 5:56 pm

  9. I came across this article while looking up the postal code for George’s son, Larry, whom he lived with in later years. I live in Paris, France, now but I’m from the Tillsonburg area. My mom still lives there. She’s Larry’s girlfriend. She is visiting me now and wanted to send him a postcard. Everyone loves to get mail.

    I’m happy to report that George lived to the ripe old age of 96 and died peacefully in his sleep with his family by his side.

    And George’s grandson… he works for Canada Post.

    Comment by Janice MacLeod — June 23, 2012 @ 7:35 am

  10. Hi Ira,
    I’m allowing myself one story today. I have a plethora of box fans with blades coated in scum that need to be cleaned. And a laundry list of other cleaning projects and fall decorations I’m working on. What an exciting life I lead. Really, I like my life, as long as the tedious and boring is blended with creativity and enjoyment.

    Another sweet story of your boyhood. If I were your neighbor at that time in your life I would have pinched your little apple cheeks and stuffed you with cookies and candy.

    Though it’s very hard for me to choose, I would have to say the stories about your childhood are my favorites. The words “precarious perch” are embedded in my psyche from one of your writings about a neighbor. Oh gosh! that was funny. God has truly blessed you with a gift for story telling and writing. He’s also blessed your readers.

    I wish your dad were able to write stories like you do, with little or no reservation. Can you imagine the treasures he would come up with? The humor, the sorrows. An Amish man, in an Amish world, with eleven kids, a writing career, and a drive to keep his curious, rambunctious boys out of the evil society that he so fears will swallow them up. That man is a walking gold mine. God bless him. He has fought a good fight. And continues to.

    On the topic of mailmen. Ours is a seasoned character. Shame, I don’t even know his name. Well that will change the next time we cross paths. He’s friendly to my boys and I. Likes chatting as long as it doesn’t interfere with the cigarette dangling from his lip. I know if he’s been around because the foyer has a delightfully delicate scent of cigarette smoke. It amazes me how his fill-ins deliver the mail so much quicker than he does. Like two hours earlier.

    I finally figured out what caused his chronic tardiness. It took a while, months even, or maybe a year or two. It was a process. As I made my rounds about town, I would see him at Jewel chatting it up with would-be customers while standing next to a bulging blue mailbox waiting to be relieved. And I would see him laughing outside a cluster of condos. with an older gentleman steadying himself with a cane. I’d run across him joking around with my neighbor and her two girls. The man loved to form relationships with people. It slowed down his work significantly but, in my opinion, he knew what was important. Probably made his work much more pleasurable, too.

    What a treat to find stories in your literary attic that I have yet to read. Thanks!

    Comment by Francine — August 12, 2013 @ 12:45 pm

  11. Greetings to you Ira on this lovely autumn day.

    Since you closed the comment section on November 2, 2007 I decided to latch on to November 16th. It’s about weddings which always has the makings for a good story.

    As a refresher, you were writing about an incident where you were paired with a woman at a wedding meal who was one of the last to be picked. On a side note, I would like to scream about the brutality in this world regarding a person’s looks. It disgusts me and it’s one of Satan’s tactics to devour the tender self-esteem within each creation of God that is supposedly not beautiful. And it’s everywhere! Grrrr.

    So anyway, I thought it very sweet of you to defend the girl’s honor from the obnoxious boys that were taunting her. How embarrassing that must have been for her. Naughty little brats.

    I was the Maid of Honor in my sister’s wedding and she was in mine. That’s the only time I’ve ever been a part of a wedding party. Really, I haven’t even been to too many weddings. Probably around ten or so, at least that I remember. A couple of them stand out.

    One was a Catholic wedding where it’s customary for the bride and groom to kneel before the priest for part of the ceremony. I would say about midway through. Following instruction the couple knelt. Unbeknownst to the groom, his groomsmen, being the mischievous bunch that they were, painted in large white letters H-E-L-P on the bottoms of his black soled shoes. Two letters per shoe. The restrained laughter from the guests must have made the bewildered couple wonder what was so funny. Luckily, the bride being of the same stock as her betrothed, found the antic humorous, as well.

    The second wedding provoked no laughter. In fact, the bride ended up in tears. A boy of about eleven innocently leaned on the cake table which gave way and the cake took a tumble. Being the main course at this particular affair, the incident really put a damper on the day.

    For my own wedding I never got into the perfection thing. No Bridezilla here. I’m afraid I’m very practical which can take the excitement out of an event that has the potential to become explosive. No thanks.

    Have a great day!

    Comment by Francine — September 30, 2013 @ 1:16 pm

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