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Food for thought

Have you hugged your mailman today?

Saturday afternoon brought a milestone moment — the passing of an era, even.

Basil invited me down to the landmark Greenwich Post Office building on Greenwich Avenue for one last peek before the whole operation was moved up the street to more modern digs. The USPS‘s financial troubles forced the sale of the 1917 neoclassical edifice last fall for $15 million.

Conflicting reports abound on the site’s future use, but Saturday’s visit was all about the past.

I hadn’t been on the workroom floor since Basil and I were dating 24 years ago. When we met in 1987, Basil was — wait for it — the Superintendent of Windows at the main office. He supervised the window clerks in those last years before the postal service became an epithet.

He’s held a bunch of different jobs since then (including a stint in attendance control that was overtaken by a computer), but Greenwich Avenue may mark Basil’s favorite time of his 34-year tenure with the USPS.

There, he worked with a terrific group of dedicated, hardworking — albeit kookie — people. Together, they represented a home away from home.

Walking among the dust bunnies and unplugged fixtures together, we remembered it all.

There was the business side of the windows, where 24 years ago, Oliver and Ozzie and Sal and many, many others accepted snacks and other surprises I concocted for my new love. (Of course, they also provided terrific, smiling customer service for a whole host of downtown residents and merchants.)

And there was Al’s office, with the Dutch door where I used to knock in the hopes that I might sneak a quick hello.

The 70-year-old WPA mural, “Sailing of the Packet from Greenwich: 1696,” painted by Victoria Hutson Huntley on a commission by the U.S. Treasury, has been peeled from the lobby wall and preserved for posterity.

The old-fashioned P.O. Boxes won’t be so lucky, however; USPS rules require them to be destroyed. I had a last look at the inside of ours before surveying the rest of the workroom floor.

The cases where mail was pitched and stacked each day for delivery had already been moved, leaving a yawning space full of echoes.

Gone, too, was the humongous safe — atop of which Basil’s staff knew better than to leave their half-eaten lunch. He’d finish it EVERY time.

But the little supervisor’s desk was still there. Once upon a time, it cradled an ashtray full of smoldering cigarettes — their wisps of smoke rising lazily toward the fluorescent light.

Out on the loading dock, a series of signs tells its own tale: “Do not jump or play on the platform.” “RIng for service.” “No visitors allowed past this point without postal supervision.” “Make sure your metered mail has the right date.”

Back inside, the once-regal postmaster’s office was pulling KP duty — storing the mailbox for Santa letters and other odds and ends still waiting to be moved.

We had a final look at it all, and some good smiles remembering the many hundreds of schoolchildren, Brownies, Cub Scouts and nursery school toddlers Basil led around the building on tours over the years. Their favorite spot was always the vault — where they never failed to yell at the top of their lungs when Basil explained that it was soundproof.

The new office opened 44 Amogerone Crossway with little fanfare this morning.

I know many of you think of the postal service as the butt of a joke, synonymous with yet another postage increase or debate about Saturday delivery, a dinosaur in this day of electronic communication.

But the men and women Basil has been privileged to work with over the years take their roles as civil servant quite seriously. They go about their appointed rounds day or night, cancel the stamps, deliver the packages, look after their customers — and in this time when most of us are at work all day, they provide a valuable secondary service as neighborhood watch and sometimes hero.

They deliver for you.

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About Terri S. Vanech

Wife, mother, communications specialist, Jazzercise instructor and recently reunited adoptee. I'm living out loud -- and trying to make it all work -- in midlife. Having a sense of humor sure helps.

Discussion

4 thoughts on “Have you hugged your mailman today?

  1. Hi Terri,

    Nice piece. I’ve been reading a book called How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One as well as talking about sentences and metaphorical language with my writing group. So I like to look for interesting sentences in what I read. I especially liked your lines about the “ashtray of smoldering cigarettes” and “a yawning space full of echoes”.
    I think through your descriptions you captured the essence of both the post office in its heyday as well as the bittersweetness of your reminiscences.
    Celia

    Posted by Celia Taylor | March 13, 2012, 8:34 am
  2. My godmother’s brother, Bruce Funston, was a mailman out of the Greenwich Post Office. I don’t know how many letters were mailed from there to Bill when he was in Japan for 2 years while we dated, mostly via USPS. We haven’t lived in Greenwich for over 45 years, but having that post office close is like losing an old friend we’ve lost touch with.

    It’s still a beautiful building!

    Posted by Karen Waggoner | March 13, 2012, 3:31 am

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