Barney Fife and postage stamps

Lots of perks go along with moving from a town of 400 or so to a small city of 19,000 or so. I miss Arenzville, but moving to Jacksonville has already shown its advantages. Everything I need and everything I forget that I need are close by. Forget English muffins? County Market is only a few minutes away. Bust the string on your weed eater? Just run down the street. But darn it, other than proximity to the smell of burgoo, there’s something I miss dearly … the local post office.

Oh, I know that Jacksonville has a post office. I’ve seen it. I’ve never actually been in it and I imagine that they post things just like they do in Arenzville, but since mail is now delivered to my door (I think it is … I’ve never actually seen the guy, but I hear a clank on my mailbox, run to look at the window and the phantom mail carrier is gone), I no longer have to visit the post office every day. I miss it and fear that paying a visit to the local facility just won’t be the same.

We all knew each other at the Arenzville branch of the UPS and it’s not just a flashback to Mayberry when I say that the place was the repository of local news. Okay, I know that postmasters are not allowed to give out certain information, but in the “old days” before everyone had his own lawyer, you could find out how long your neighbors would be on vacation, where the fire was last night, who was marrying who down at the Lutheran church and when you were scheduled to stir burgoo. I don’t think they provide that information at the Jacksonville post office.

And I doubt that the local service quite measures up to the small town postal office. I once received a letter in my box addressed, “Freida Marie Crump, Coonridge, Illinois.” How in the name of heaven did that get from Sedalia, Missouri, to Arenzville, Illinois? I’m clueless. More than once I’ve received letters addressed to “Ken Bradbury, Arenzville, Illinois,” with no clue of box number or house address. In some larger offices, this would have been returned to sender. In Arenzville, we know what you’re talking about. Just put the darned thing in the box. Yes, I know that a post office the size of Jacksonville’s can’t be expected to know all these things. There is confusion in numbers after all, but still … I miss the little post office.

Only twice in my life have I had to wait in line to get the postmaster’s attention. The first time a lady was receiving a shipment of baby chickens, and the second time a fellow who kept his money under his mattress was filling out a money order. I felt like Barney Fife was going to walk through the door any minute.

But of course postmasters are busy people, so the sources of your information in Arenzville are most often other patrons. Lois would always tell me when the “girls” were meeting for their daily dose of dominoes, Melvin would tell me how his wife was doing, Sue would tell me who’d driven down our street the night before, the Lutheran pastor would inform me of upcoming funerals, Mrs. Hannel would tell me when I could pick up my next mince meat pie and Gary Beard would regale me with such a litany of lies that I’d rush home to write my next column. It’s just hard to get this kind of service at a post office of any size. All that news without even buying a stamp.

I’d like to actually find and catch my Jacksonville mailman, but he seems to walk on little cat’s feet. Maybe he, too, would be a source of neighborhood news. He knows the dogs on the block, who mows their yard when and who’s Amazon’s top customer in the area, but I wonder if he knows about the domino games, mince pies, and if he can tell a lie as well as Gary. I doubt it. He wears a uniform and there’s something about dressing up that closes your mouth. I was once looking for the home of my friend Judy in a neighboring village, which for the fun of it I’ll call Virginia, Illinois. I was a bit lost so I stopped a mail delivery gal and asked her for the home of Judy Briggs. She very politely told me that she couldn’t give me that information. Strange. Everyone else in town could. But went I went sauntering up to a door to knock the postal gal started making high whining noises and tossing her head in the opposite direction. I figured that either I was going the wrong way or the poor gal had been inflicted with the shakes. Bottom line: she was right, I was wrong, and I found Judy’s house. I’d put that sort of service up against any Peoria post office.

I may actually step inside the Jacksonville post office some day since I’m bound to run out of stamps, but I doubt if a soul will know how Melvin’s wife is doing, and they probably won’t know a thing about when I’m scheduled to work the burgoo bowl washing line.

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