Joanna Tebbs Young
CIRCLES OF COMMUNITY
Deep snow. Blowing snow. Ice rain. Pouring rain. Twenty below. Forty above. Bright sun glaring off ice-packed sidewalks. Thick fog loitering in the depressions. Winter in Vermont is a smorgasbord of climatic delights and potential disasters.
Daily, I monitor the weather from the comfort of my warm, dry, ice-less home, ever thankful my work requires no further commute than from kitchen to upstairs office, attire no more cumbersome than yoga pants and fleece. (Oh, who am I kidding? It’s jammies and robe.)
It’s 9:30 a.m. The dog barks. The white van is pulling up to the curb, as it does six days a week regardless of the wind or rain or roads slick with ice. Under the shelter of her minivan’s open rear door, the mail-carrier pulls on her gear of the day—yesterday, a long slicker and huge umbrella; today, a heavy snowsuit, face mask, and hat—and loads up her satchel and arms with letters, fliers, and packages; even some boxes, the ever-increasing number of ones with the smiley-swoosh on the side.
It’s possible that I appreciate our mail-carrier more than most do. No, I’m not claiming to be any more caring than anyone else; it’s just that I really like what she brings me. As a freelancer, it is through the mail I receive the checks which put food on the table or a new pair of fun boots on my feet. When I hear her crunch up the path in the cramp-ons that make slightly easier work of the sidewalk masquerading as an ice-rink, I have to stop myself from tearing open the door to grab the pile of envelopes straight from her hand. Instead, I wait a dignified few minutes to open the mailbox and flip through the tree-killing stack of junk mail in search of the tell-tale blue safety paper in the envelope window.
But moreover, because my desk looks out onto the street, a view which can change moment to moment according to the slant of the sun, the depth of the snow, or the heaviness of the rain, I am aware daily of what force of nature our mail-carrier and her co-workers are battling or enjoying each day. And some are even doing it while driving on the wrong side of the truck!
She comes to my house five or six days a week whether trudging through deep snow or under a blazing hot sun. I don’t even know her name. The dog barks at her every single time. And he’s friendly. Everyday she faces the potential of meeting a not-so-friendly canine—or human, for that matter. Everyday she is laden down with piles of paper and cardboard which surely strain her back and neck. But you know what she carries that amazes me the most? Her smile. Everyday, no matter the weather or how heavy load on her back, whenever anyone walks by or comes out of their house to their mailbox—one of the 548 she fills on her eleven-mile daily walk—her greeting is cheery and her smile bright. Even those horrendous polyester shorts she has to wear in the summer don’t seem to dull her attitude. Now, that’s impressive!
My neighborhood’s mail-carrier is just one of hundreds across Vermont and thousands across the country doing this vital, strenuous, thankless job. They join the ranks of millions of others working in the background, sometimes in the dark hours, and often in the elements, no matter how harsh: garbage collectors, road construction workers, utility workers, janitors… the list goes on and on. Our communities wouldn’t function without them.
With gratitude I acknowledge my mail-carrier today. Thank you for bringing me checks and thank you for doing it with a smile. (And I’m sorry about the dog.)