I still have a few things to say about Paul’s years as a mailman.  Today’s thoughts are on the serious side.  I’m remembering the fall of 2001, terrorism, and how it affected our lives.

9-11-01: A horrible day in our nation’s history.  Our local newspaper never told why the Appleton post office closed immediately after the attack.  Not only was the post office closed to customers, but everyone who worked there was evacuated and sent home.   Hours before the 9-11 horror took place, two men of Middle Eastern appearance had been spotted outside the back of our post office, where the loading docks are, taking pictures.  An off-duty policeman that happened to be driving by noticed them and thought this was odd, because the building is anything but picturesque.  He stopped to ask what they were doing, and they said they were testing the lighting effects on their camera.  Two weeks previously, the same strange activity had been noted at another post office in a nearby town.  The policeman reported the suspicious activity to the postmaster, and when the airplane attack began, the decision was made to shut down.

Meanwhile, shortly before the 9-11 attack, our future son-in-law had been prompted by the Lord, for no reason that he knew of, to pray for Paul’s safety at the post office.  He obediently prayed and then forgot about it, with all the trauma that happened so soon after.  But when he heard the story about the two men with the camera, he knew why he had been prompted.  To this day, we don’t know what they were up to, or whether anything serious had been planned against the post office, but I do believe that Chris’ prayers may have kept something nasty from happening.  Perhaps his prayers were why the policeman just happened to drive by right then, and perhaps the men were scared off from whatever plans they had had, by having been discovered.

In days to come, another terror activity came into our lives, when deadly anthrax began to travel through the mail system.  Frankly, I was scared.  It didn’t matter that Appleton was not a major metropolis, and that no one would probably think to send anthrax here.  Mail travels hither and thither all over the country, through many postal centers, and there was no guarantee that mail my husband was handling had not come into contact with anthrax-tainted letters.  I pleaded with him to take all the precautions possible, without much success.  The precautions that were available wouldn’t have helped much.  He agreed to wear the little face mask that was provided him, but we’d already been informed the masks were not adequate to prevent inhaling anthrax spores anyway.  The gloves that were provided to protect skin from contamination got in the way of handling mail, so Paul chose not to wear them after the first couple of times.  They wouldn’t have helped either, because if anything had gotten on them, Paul would have gotten it on his hands in the process of taking them off.

It was a hard time to live through.  Christians are not supposed to live in fear.  They are supposed to trust the Lord for every breath of life.  I did not do very well at being fearless during this time.  I didn’t live in constant anxiety about terrorists blowing us up, and I’m sure I was more peaceful than the average American citizen, but the anthrax thing hit a little too close to home.  This was my husband, not somebody else’s.  My pastor helped me at a key moment of anxiety with a few kind, comforting words that meant the world to me.

I am grateful that my husband and the other people at his post office were not harmed.  I am grateful that it’s all only a memory now, not a present-day trouble we are living through.

May God continue to bless America and keep us from ever going through such a trial again.

Accidents Will Happen

Once upon a time, there was a handsome young mailman named Paul.  Every day he kissed his very lovely wife Lee Ann goodbye, shouldered his mailbag, and courageously headed out into the concrete jungle to deliver vital pieces of junk mail to every home.  Daily, many dangers faced him, but he laughed in the face of hardship, as he did his duty to his country and neighborhood for, “The mail must go through.”

The difficulties that opposed him came in various shapes and forms, most of which would not be appear, to the uninitiated, to be dangers.  There were bird feeders and ladders lurking around every corner, hoping to smack him in the forehead and knock him silly.  (But his official postal jungle helmet always saved the day and his noggin.)  There were ankle-biting Chihuahuas hiding behind the petunia patches.  In the winter, there were sidewalks with hidden ice patches, just waiting to rise up and bang the honest man’s backside or cranium.  AND there were dump trucks.  Dump trucks here and dump trucks there, all waiting to run into our handsome hero’s mail vehicle and flatten it into a pancake.

Let us examine, a little more closely, just one of these dump truck incidents.  Our dedicated letter carrier was minding his own business, attempting to deliver mail to a curbside box.  Unbeknownst to him, construction workers have a certain quota of mailboxes that MUST become casualties to their construction job, and a dump truck driver had chosen that very mailbox to help him meet his quota.  Unfortunately, the dump truck driver had determined to back into said mailbox at the exact moment that Paul was putting mail into it.

“Beep, beep, beep, beep,” went the dump truck, as it relentlessly bore down on the mailman and his faithful mount.  “BEEEEEEEP!!!!!!!!”  went the mail truck’s horn, as our horrified hero thought, “This is the end of me!”

Fortunately, the dump truck hit and destroyed the front end of the mail vehicle, not the part where Paul was located.  Shaken, but happy to still be alive, he called headquarters to give them a report of how much fun he was having delivering mail.

In the days that followed, our courageous hero found out that he was NOT a hero.  He was the object of wrath, for everyone knows that being in the wrong place at the wrong time is the same as being completely at fault when there is an accident of this magnitude.  The Postmaster General does not like to hear, while sitting at his fine desk in Washington D.C., that another postal vehicle has been demolished and must be replaced.  He worries about the price of stamps going up, each time this happens.  He has a very hard job, poor thingie!  Mailmen are easy to replace, but alas! mail trucks are not.  Had our hapless letter carrier been outside of his truck and been hit in his own insignificant person, there would not have been much problem.  But such was not the case.

Weeks went by, during which the fearless? young mailman tiptoed gingerly around the post office, hoping the postal hotline would not ring with orders from the top command to eliminate the foul perpetrator of the crime (himself).  Ahhh!  But while being interrogated for the umpteenth time about HOW such a thing could happen to a postal truck, the light bulb suddenly went on, and he remembered a very important piece of evidence: the dump truck driver had been wearing hearing aids!  This undoubtedly meant that there was a reason that the driver did not stop backing up when the mail truck’s horn went “BEEEEEEEP!!!!!!!!”  He did not hear it!  Perhaps he had forgotten to replace the batteries in his hearing aids, did not hear the BEEEEEEEP!!!!!!!!  and this was why he destroyed the poor little mail vehicle.

The result of this important bit of data was that the Postal Service went after the construction company to pay for the replacement of the mail truck, the price of stamps therefore did not go up, the Postmaster General stopped treating his stress with TUMS and resisted the temptation to go postal, and …

Our handsome, courageous, completely competent, and perfectly vindicated young mailman hero and his very lovely wife lived happily ever after.

Man’s Best Friend Is Not 

Dogs have always been attracted to my mailman husband, but not in a “man’s best friend” kind of way.  It’s been more along the lines of them thinking he was a giant chew toy, waiting to be pulled apart.  There is a reason that the top-selling bumper sticker among letter carriers is one that announces, “I hate your dog!”

Anyone who has delivered mail for any length of time accumulates mutt stories, and Paul is no exception. There was the beast that took Paul’s daily appearance on the scene as his cue to tone his muscles by doing body slams against the picture window.  The day came when it shattered.  Tinkle, tinkle, tinkle.  How melodic falling glass shards sound!  Fortunately for Paul, the window was double-paned, and Pooch must have decided that was enough exercise for one day.

Then there was the pit bull that was tied to the front porch pillar — and ripped the pillar off the porch in his frenzy to devour the mailman.  He made his dash for the kill, but Paul, not having time to grab his mace can, called out, “Help me, Jesus!” and the dog swerved past him and kept running.

Just like with people, some dogs are sneaky types.  Paul experienced one that seemed to be the model of comportment while his owner was standing nearby, but the moment the man’s back was turned, the dog took a quick look to make sure he would not be discovered, and then wrapped his teeth around Paul’s kneecap.

Letter carriers keep mace handy for the emergency cases, but putting their mailbag between themselves and the aggressive dog is usually the first line of defense.  Mace is generally a last resort, since dogs who have been treated to mace are not forgiving.  If they merely wanted a little snack of flesh to entertain themselves with before, once maced, their intent is murder and a full course meal.  Most people probably don’t know, but before mace was invented, mailmen packed guns to dispatch any troublesome canines.  Bizarre, but true.

Dog owners are mighty defensive about their darlings, and generally have the notion that Fido wouldn’t harm a flea.  Maybe Fido leaves his fleas alone, but the mailman is another story.  Paul has had the beasties growling and lunging, their lips curled back over their teeth, while the owners stood by doing nothing, except to assure him from a distance that their baby wouldn’t hurt anybody, and is just playing.

On one occasion, when Paul resorted to his can of mace, the dog’s owner suddenly appeared from out of the bushes, and snarled at him that if he ever did that again, she would bite him herself.  Paul’s eyes got wide, but he wisely refrained from saying anything, and just kept movin’ on down the street.

Paul has never had hand-to-hand combat (or shall we say, mouth-to-mouth combat?) with any critter, but one of the other carriers did.  The dog bit him — and he bit back.  It must have been one of those moments when survival instincts rise to the surface and dignity takes a leap off the cliff.  I wonder what dog ear tastes like?

As retirement drew near, Paul began to fantasize about farewell messages he would like to leave for several of his favorite pooches.  He talked about how much fun it would be to finally get back at all the mutts who had tried to nibble his fingers through those mail slots that are on the doors of some homes.  He could just squirt a little mace through the slot and go on his merry way, whistling Dixie, a satisified smirk plastered on his lips — but it wouldn’t have been fair to the letter carrier destined to succeed him.

Fortunately, although there were a few small bites through the years, Paul never had any dog chomp down badly enough to break the skin.  I attribute this to my daily prayers for him that God would protect him from accidents, bad dogs, and terrorists — but terrorists are another story for another day.

Postal Romance 

I don’t know if you have noticed, but elderly people spend a lot of time looking out the window.  No, not just to see what the weather is doing.  They are watching their neighbors for entertainment purposes — much like other folks watch TV. Apparently, our life was an ongoing soap opera for one of our neighbor ladies for awhile.

We’ve been blessed with Paul having a mail route close to our home for most of his postal career.  This meant he could come home for lunch.  It’s been wonderful for the girls and me to be able to connect with him midday.  For the few years when this was not possible, the day was sooo long without him!

Most of our neighbors got the idea fairly quickly that the mail truck parked out in front of our house everyday about noontime was Paul’s, and that he was home for a sandwich.  It was pretty much a no-brainer — except for one elderly woman, who got the notion in her noodle that the lady at our house had something of a peculiarly spicy variety going on with the mailman.  Now, she was partially right; the lady at our house does have a spicy little romance going on with her mailman, but since he’s my husband I think it’s probably OK.

In vain did her son explain to her that it was all right.  “He lives there, Mom!  He’s just home for lunch.  They’ve got a little girl.  She’s home during the day, too.”

But the idea that something soap opera-ish was going on had lodged in her cranium, and there was no getting it to budge. The possibility that the mailman could live in the same neighborhood that he delivered to was incomprehensible.  Perhaps the idea that the mailman lived a normal, ho-hum existence outside of delivering mail was incomprehensible as well.  Every day, she watched for that mail truck to pull up in front of our house.  Every day, she timed how long it sat there.  And every day, she clucked her tongue to her family about the shenanigans going on over at the neighbors’.

We heard the whole tale over the back fence from her son many months later, and all had a hearty laugh over it.  I had never dreamed of being such an interesting character.  That my neighbors would give me more than a few seconds’ thought — and that the thoughts would be of such an unusual nature — was a novel idea in itself!  I doubt if he ever did convince Mom.

The Eve of Retirement 

Today is my husband Paul’s big moment — his last day as a letter carrier.  He has finally fulfilled the requirement of 55 years of age and 30 years of service.  He’s been excited about making this change for months now, and the day has arrived at last.

Yesterday they had a little party for him at the P.O.  They told him he could make a speech to everyone and say whatever he wanted to.  If you knew Paul, you would have already guessed — he told them how he came to know the Lord, and invited them all to give their hearts to Jesus.  They gave him a large crystal eagle sculpture, and he brought home enough leftover cake to add five pounds to his wife’s hips.  (No, I will NOT let that happen!)   They also chipped in for a monetary gift, which was overwhelmingly generous.

Truth be known, letter carriers are like Marines: once a Marine, always a Marine; once a postal worker, always a postal worker.  Paul will still make snide remarks about FedEx every time we pass one of their trucks on the street.  He will continue to roll his eyes in contempt every time his wife runs to the UPS station with a package that must get somewhere within days (not weeks).

Paul has always loved his job.  He has built mutual bonds with many of his customers and fellow workers through the years.  He has helped them with their postal frustrations, listened to their personal troubles here and there, and prayed with them when they or their families were sick, most of the time on off-duty hours.  He’s kept an eye on the elderly by letting their families know when they haven’t emptied the mailbox for a few days.  Small wonder that postal workers are the most trusted government employees in the nation.

Some of his customers know frightening amounts of details about our personal life — not because Paul has told them, but because they have gone to great lengths to find out for themselves.   They know how many kids we have, their names, and how old they are.  They know exactly when Paul comes home for lunch — and call or show up on the doorstep for personal attention during that time.  I’m hoping they don’t know our social security or bank account numbers.  When the girls were small, there were special little gifts just for them from some of the grannies at Christmas time.  If people are going to know so much about us, at least it’s good that they like us!

It’s going to be a big adjustment for Paul’s girlies, having him home with us so much.  He has volunteered to help with the home schooling.  We’ll see.  People who had to take remedial math courses throughout high school should not be teaching their daughters algebra.  But we may let him get his fingers in on the science labs or let him expound on Civil War history once in awhile.  (And shop class — he can teach shop.  Beebee informed me the other day that she has no clue how to use the back side of a hammer to remove a nail from the wall, so she hurt her fingers trying to do it bare-handed.  We will have to explain shop class, or she will think Daddy is going to give her a guided tour of Old Navy and Target.)

Paul does have some plans for his future — and God has bigger plans for him than Paul does!  (So does my mom.  She can’t wait to have her own personal lawn care and maintenance man.)  But we’ll let the ol’ guy have the first few weeks to just enjoy doing whatever he pleases — unless he starts to drive us nuts, in which case we’ll launch him into his future career sooner than he anticipated!

I suppose I will have to tell thirty years’ worth of postal anecdotes in days to come.  Some are pretty entertaining.  I feel a series coming on!

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