Anyone who lives in a rural area of Canada knows the following rule: You have to shovel out the mailbox.
That is: If it is winter, and if your mailbox is on the side of the road that runs in front of your house, you have to shovel away any snow that accumulates in front of it. If you don’t, the person who delivers your mail won’t be able to drive up to it, open its door from inside his or her vehicle, and pop your mail in. (Canada Post‘s rules prohibit mail deliverers from getting out of their vehicles to put stuff in your mailbox. I expect it’s primarily a safety precaution, but possibly also a time-saving measure.)
Now, longtime readers of Meanwhile, at the Manse might remember that I have previously declared myself fully cognizant of that winter requirement on the mailbox front. In a post I did a couple of years ago (and which you can read in full here), I invoked my late father, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, in recounting how I was making it a point in the midst of a very snowy winter to keep the mailbox shovelled out so as to clear a path for the mail carrier. And I’ve kept up my mailbox resolution, shovelling it out many, many times since that post was written.
But as those of you who live in the northeastern part of North America know, the winter of 2015-16 has not, to date at least, been a very snowy one. I’ve shovelled out the mailbox a few times this winter, and Raymond has too; but when the amount of snow on the ground is little more than an inch or two, mailbox shovelling is not top of mind as an essential Manse chore. As a result of this complacency, two things happened recently: one, we failed to get mail for a couple of days; and two, I learned a valuable and happy lesson in how things work in small towns and rural areas.
Last Wednesday, Raymond and I were thoroughly puzzled when the red flag on our mailbox – the indicator that one does, in fact, have mail – failed to go up. There were a couple of things we were vaguely expecting to arrive that day; but more to the point, Wednesday is the day that the Tweed News weekly newspaper comes by mail, and the Tweed News never fails to appear. Why, the only thing surer than that columnist Evan Morton (curator of the wonderful Tweed and Area Heritage Centre) will have a good read in the paper about some aspect of Tweed’s history is the fact that the paper will show up, like clockwork, on Wednesday in the mailbox.
Not last week, though. “That’s odd,” Raymond and I said to each other Wednesday evening at the non-appearance of the Tweed News – and any other mail. But we shrugged and assumed that everything had just been delayed a day for some reason.
But when no mail – and especially no Tweed News – appeared Thursday, we suspected something might be wrong. It never crossed our minds that an unshovelled mailbox was the problem; we hadn’t taken the shovel to it in a while, but there seemed no reason to. The amount of snow on the ground was pretty small, and to the casual observer (i.e. us, from our front porch), the mailbox looked quite accessible.
But that is where we had it wrong. And that is how I learned my lesson.
On my way to work in Belleville on Friday morning, I stopped in to our local post office, which is in the village of Madoc. (Long gone, and very much missed, are the days in my childhood when Queensborough had its own post office at McMurray’s general store, and the late Blanche McMurray was the extremely capable postmistress.)
On duty at the counter that morning was Sheryl, one of the two very pleasant people who staff the Madoc Post Office. “Hi, Sheryl!” I chirped as I walked in. “Hi, Katherine!” she cheerily responded. “Is there something up with the mail?” I asked, starting to explain that we uncharacteristically hadn’t received anything for the past couple of days. (I had worriedly been wondering if our carrier had been ill and they’d been unable to find someone to replace her.) Sheryl knew instantly where I was going with that, and I didn’t even need to finish my sentence. “She [the mail carrier, that is] hasn’t been able to get to your mailbox for the last couple of days,” she explained.
Well! I was mortified, knowing as I so well do, from my earliest childhood, the importance of keeping the mailbox shovelled. I blithered something apologetic about not having realized there was a buildup of snow, plus an assurance that things should be okay as of Friday because the neighbour who snowplows our driveway had, the previous afternoon, taken a good swing at the area in front of the mailbox. Sheryl assured me that all should therefore be well: the carrier had our accumulated mail in the truck with her at that very moment, and so it all should end up in the mailbox that day. And she was right. It did. Tweed News and all.
(Which, I will add parenthetically, was especially good because Raymond had, as in each of the previous few Februarys since we bought the Manse, placed a Valentine’s Day message for me in the classifieds! How sweet is that?)
So why am I telling you this story? Because it’s actually not, despite appearances, about an unshovelled mailbox. I didn’t even realize it was a story until the end of the day on Friday, when I was recounting to Raymond (who was in Montreal) my exchange with Sheryl. As I told him how she had had the answer to my query about not getting mail before I could even get that query fully out of my mouth, I suddenly burst out laughing. It was a laugh of delighted recognition at another of the joys of living in a rural area. (For other examples of said joys, I refer you to many hundreds of previous posts here at Meanwhile, at the Manse.)
Think of it this way: if you lived in a larger town, or a city, what are the chances that:
a) You know the first name of the person behind the counter at the post office, and she knows yours?
b) The post office is actually a post office, and not a corner of a Shoppers Drug Mart?
c) The post-office person whose name you know, and who knows yours, is completely familiar with the condition of your mailbox? And knows off the top of her head the specifics of why you haven’t had mail for a couple of days – without having to look into it, or check the computer, or make a phone call, or promise to get back to you, or – most likely of all – tell you it’s not anything he or she knows anything about and therefore why are you bothering him or her with your dumb question? (Though they might phrase it more politely.)
d) The person behind the counter would know the whereabouts of your accumulated mail at that very moment (in the truck with the carrier, on the way to Queensborough)?
My laughter as I told the story to Raymond was delighted laughter – delight at living in a place where people know each other by name, and problems get fixed, and mail gets delivered, and lessons (about always being vigilant about mailbox shovelling) are learned – and we all just get along. And we do it, in part, through knowing more about each other’s business than people in the big city do. Is that a bad thing?
I don’t think so.