And Speaking of the Post Office . . .

Back in my hometown, the post office line is 15 deep, and it takes about 20 minutes to take care of whatever postal business one needs taking care of.  Here in rural Maine, business is not exactly booming.  There is no line, but it takes the same 20 minutes, because “N,” the postmistress, has lots to tell you.  It’s rarely relevant to post office business, however.

“N” is great at multi-tasking and like most Yankees, she is thrifty, too.  One time I waited patiently while she had a phone conversation with a girlfriend, while cutting up scrap paper into smaller pieces.  “Just a minute,” she said to her friend on the phone, when she saw me waiting.  But I was wrong to think I would be served anytime soon. “D’ncha just hate it when people print stuff on theyah computah on only one side of the paypah?  What a waste!” she said to me in her thick Maine accent, and she then went back to her phone conversation while tearing up more paper.  When each paper in the stack was finally in fourths, she arranged it all neatly in a pile, and only then said to her friend, “okay, I have to go!” and turned to me.  “I just really needed to get that paypah done!  Now… how can I help you?”

Within four times of visiting our post office to pick up our mail (more about that later), I found out the following:

“N’s” father put all his money into lakeshore farmland back in the days when land was cheap.  They own a few hundred acres of which 550’ is waterfront property on a premier lake – worth big bucks even in today’s floundering economy.

(This is not an uncommon phenomenon in Maine:  people own land that’s been in their family for generations that is worth a fortune, yet they are lucky to be making $20,000 a year and just barely getting by.  Selling off family land is, l’havdil, like asking a 7th generation Yerushalmi to sell you his apartment in Mea Shearim.  Only in the most desperate of situations would he sell – – but it would be to another 7th generation Yerushalmi.)

In his later years, N’s father deeded a portion of the acreage to his daughter, our postmistress, and there she built herself a house of her own.  After her father died, N’s mother couldn’t really manage the farm by herself and alas, the winters were too hard, so N’s mother spends November through May in Florida.  That means N must manage not only her own property, but the family farm as well – when she’s not at work.

N enjoys her independence, and is proud that she is so self-sufficient.  But she realized right away that a simple pickup truck with a plow blade attached would be inadequate to plow her 2000’ long driveway in the winter.  “I saved up for eight ye-ahs, until I had the cash,” she says with pride.  “I did it by not taking off for lunch while I was at work for eight whole ye-ahs.  And finally, after the eight ye-ahs was up, I went out and bought myself one of those big John Deere tractahs.”

I quickly did the calculations in my head.  Three dollars saved a day, multiplied by 5 days a week, is fifteen dollars a week, multiplied by 50 weeks, is seven hundred fifty dollars a year, multiplied by 8 years:  that comes to six thousand dollars by not eating lunch on the weekdays for eight years.

Now, big John Deere tractors do not cost $6000, they cost more like $30,000.  The other thing is that our post office is closed for lunch every day from 12:30 to 1:30.  I wondered if during those eight lunch-less years it remained open?  But Maineahs do not like to be interrupted with petty details, so I let “N” continue:

“Buying that John Deere tractah was the best thing I evah did.  Of course, it didn’t come with any attachments.  So I had to buy the plow blade and snow throwah extra.”

“N” continued to impress.  “I get up at 3:30 a.m. in the pitch dahk and staht plowing because otherwise I won’t make it to work on time.  It takes 2 hours to plow the whole dahn 2000’ feet of driveway . . . and then I staht in at my mom’s place.  Luckily she only has 500’ of driveway to plow.”

The only time she finds plowing challenging is if it snows while she’s at work.  “Then I have to pahk on the road, snowshoe in the two thousand feet, and hope the dahn tractah stahts up so I can plow back to the road so I can get my cah into the garage.”

“N” has been encouraging me to buy a tractor for our driveway, as well.  Not to mention her suggestion that we must buy spare rims for the tires so they’ll be easier to switch out when we replace our current radials with snow tires.  And we’d better make sure that whatever tires we buy are studded, she adds.

Now all of this well-intentioned information, which really sounds like Greek to me, comes by way of a simple question I posed four visits ago:  what are the requirements for me to get a mailbox in front of my house, so I don’t keep having to drive the eight miles to the post office to pick up my mail, and can save on the expense of a rented post office box?  “N” tells me that the only way to know for sure is to place a mailbox somewhere near the driveway, fill out a form to have the mail officially forwarded from my rental PO box to my street address, and then see if the rural mail carrier can deliver it.

In order to put out a mailbox, I have to buy a box, construct a post, dig a hole before the ground freezes with a post-hole digger, and mix cement to fill the hole.  I ask “N” if it wouldn’t be easier to just tell me what the regulations are before I go to all this trouble so I can see if it’s even doable, but she says she doesn’t want to tell me the wrong thing so I had better just go ahead and give it a try.

But, she adds, the rural mail carrier uses her own car to deliver the mail, and she will not climb the driveway or even get out of her car, so I had better be sure that the box is not only at the correct point off the road – “not too fah and not too close” – and that it had better be the correct height, too, so the mail carrier can slip it right from her car window into the mailbox.

I ask what type of vehicle the rural mail lady uses to deliver the mail, because if she has a pickup truck the window will be at a different height than a sedan.  To which she replies that currently, the mail lady has a station wagon, but “come to think of it, she was talking about trading in her cah,” so she can’t be sure of the correct height of the box and anyhow she wouldn’t want to tell me the wrong thing . . .

Unfortunately even the very bottom of our driveway is too steep for the mail lady’s vehicle in winter; and on either side of the driveway’s entrance there is both a ditch and a culvert, so I cannot think of where we might possibly place a mailbox in any case.  That’s when I start to hear about N’s 2000’ long driveway and her John Deere tractor, and a whole lot else.

One day it occurs to me that if the local mail is delivered in the mail carrier’s private vehicle, and she will not get out of the car, then it must be quite a feat to put the mail in the mailbox through the right side of her vehicle.  So on my next visit I ask “N” if the U.S. Post Office pays to have the mail lady’s vehicle altered or adapted to make this process easier, by installing right-side drive.  “Oh, no, they don’t change anything in the cah,” she said.  “Basically, the mail lady sits between the two front seats, with her left foot on the gas and brake pedals, and her right foot on the passenger side.  Her left hand guides the steering wheel, while she leans ovah with her right hand to open the window and stick the mail in the box.”  This is accomplished without stopping while driving down narrow, remote dirt roads that are twisty, icy, and full of ruts!

“Isn’t it kind of uncomfortable sitting between the two front seats, using both pedals with the left foot and steering with the left hand, while stretching to reach out with the right to put mail in the mailbox from the car window?” I ask, incredulous.

“Oh,” N says nonchalantly, “you get used to it.”

Women from Maine are tough!

So for now, I am picking up the mail about two or three times a week from our rented post office box, eight miles away.  I try to make sure it’s on one of those days when the dump is open, because it’s only 1.5 miles further up the road.   Call it multi-tasking.

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