Don’t underestimate a dirt road

The Friday Photo
A weekly photo celebrating art, spontaneity, and community

My friends John and Paula Swint, and neighbors, by country folks definition, have more organic green beans than they can eat or want to can for the winter. I arrived to get the fresh picked beans they offered and got to hear a teen brother and sister duo perform a song they were rehearsing with John for church this Sunday.

The dirt road in today’s photo may be just another dirt road to most people. For me, and many others in rural communities, dirt roads take us to fresh food that is gladly shared and a peek at young talent encouraged by parents and neighbors.

Rural post offices deliver more than mail

Late one afternoon last week I walked into the Sandersville post office just steps behind an older man dressed in jeans, a work shirt, and boots. He looked very comfortable in his clothes, like that was what he had worn to work in for years. His gate was slow, which seemed to emphasize his tall and lanky build. He turned to go toward the post office boxes and I went into the customer service area to mail my package.

Before long he came in and got in line. When it was his turn he approached Lynn, the mail clerk. He said he didn’t understand why his phone bill was almost $100. It was hard to understand him through the combination of a rural Southern accent and speech that was perhaps thickened by an earlier stroke. He didn’t want to pay the bill because it was so high, but he said he would. Lynn asked if he was making long distance phone calls, or if anyone else was using his phone or had added services to his line.

As a spectator listening to the conversation while I filled out my shipping forms, it was stampheartbreakingly clear that this man had no one else to ask for help. Well actually, he did. He knew the clerks at the Sandersville post office would at least listen.

Those few minutes dispelled all the arguments laid out in big city offices about why small town post offices just aren’t necessary, that they really don’t serve anyone at all.

Before I turned around to get in line, Lynn told him that if his bill was high again next month, she would come to his house, help him figure out why, and then help him do something about it.

Lynn told me after he left that she has helped other seniors with similar problems after she has left work. She said it is her way to pay things forward so she can sleep at night.

And really, rural post offices are like community water coolers. People share news in the lobby while they retrieve their mail: marriages, births, graduations, new jobs, children moving away, illnesses, and deaths. The clerks ask about vacations when people come in to pick up their mail, how grandchildren are, if the house will be full of family for the holidays.

Lynn happened to be at the counter that afternoon, but anyone who has stood in line in the Sandersville post office has seen each and every person working behind that counter treat the customers who need a little more help, who aren’t moving as fast as those of us who operate in a constant “hurry up” mode, with respect and patience.

I could buy stamps for our Christmas letter at Wal-Mart on Sunday night when the counter at the post office is dark. But I won’t. I’ll buy them in Sandersville during old-fashioned “banker’s hours,” stamp them at home, and then slide them into the outgoing mail slot in the Warthen post office five miles from the house, which is now only open two hours every weekday.

Sure, it will take a few days for the letters to get delivered. But here’s no replacement for putting a Christmas card on the refrigerator which may well stay there until next year’s arrives to replace it. This is one time of year when snail mail trumps email.