The joy of neighbors

Ronda Rich's picture

Now that I live in the country – a lovely blessing – I see slices of everyday life that make my heart smile.

In the little speck of a town that is my permanent address these days, I love my regular visits to the tiny post office where the postmaster, Regina, and her staff including three rural carriers welcome me by name and stop for a friendly chat.

We discuss the weather, Dixie Dew’s latest diet – they call her by name, too, and ask for permission to give her a treat – the day’s news or last Sunday’s sermon.

When customers saunter in, they are never in a hurry in this quiet, laid-back place unlike post offices in big cities where customers are frequently frazzled and hurried. They, too, join in for neighborly conversation between friends and strangers.

“How’s Miz Pirkle doin’?” the postmaster asked the old man.

“Purdy good,” he answered, pushing his glasses back on the bridge of his nose. “Had a spell with her rheumatism actin’ up but when you git up in age like us, you’re just glad when that’s all it is.”

The postmaster nodded with a smile as she weighed the package. The old man turned to the stranger beside him.

“That’s my wife she’s askin’ ‘bout,” he explained, folding his arms across his chest. “Be married 60 years come next spring, good Lord willin’.”

Then a warm conversation springs up between two people who, until that moment, had never seen the whites of each other’s eyes.

Before I get to the tree-shaded post office with its four parking places on the quiet main street where every house has a welcoming front porch, I’m already smiling. For I have passed the simple, green-painted house with the front yard swing that has a canopy over it. He sits there every day that the rain doesn’t come and waves faithfully at the cars that pass.

There is a sign in the edge of the yard so faded by weather and years that the wording can’t be deciphered except for “Garage.” My mind often plays across what could have been this man’s life. Without fail, he is dressed in twill coveralls – sometimes navy but usually dark green – and a billed cap that he sometimes tips in my direction rather than offering a wave.

I imagine that his hands are calloused from years of hard work under the hood of cars and permanently stained with grease that has seeped under the skin. I knew a man like that once. And though he tried to scrub away the remnants of a day’s mechanic’s work, the grease and oil were more stubborn than he. It remained and followed him to his grave.

I am always reminded of the old men who sit in the parking lot of the Piggly Wiggly in Talladega, Ala. Every day, the men – four or five of them – arrive with their chairs, including a couple of recliners, in pick-up trucks. They unload them, then spend the rest of the day, relaxing and people-watching.

General stores and old wooden benches are, for the most part, gone but those Alabama men improvise. Though they’d probably be hard pressed to tell you what “improvise” means.

On Saturdays, other aging men join the man who lives in the green house. One sits in the swing beside him while the others situate themselves in lawn chairs. They watch the dribble of traffic with casual interest and a nod, wave or tip their hats. I have never seen a word being exchanged among them.

But it makes me smile for I love this simplicity of life.

I’d tell you where I live but I’d hate for too many to take up the notion of moving here.

We’re just big enough as it is.

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