I went to the post office today. It was just after lunch when the post office lady (I think her name is Donna) was retrieving the mail from the authentic looking blue postal collection box just outside of the front door. I walked past her with a nod of my head, as I usually do, but I’m unsure if she saw me.
She was talking with another lady as they traveled together out of the post office. The other woman had a sheaf of envelopes in her hand, of various shapes and sizes, leading me to believe she had just checked her postal box for the day. They were conversing animatedly with each other like they were old friends, so I didn’t interrupt.
As I settled in at the counter to wait for her imminent return another gentleman came in after me. I also nodded at him, as is my wont in situations such as those, and he inclined his head in return. It’s a guy thing. He was an older fellow, with a white beard that didn’t at all remind me of Santa Claus. And even though this is a small town, I don’t believe I had ever seen him before, a rarity that was worth noting at the time, and then later.
We struck up a minimal conversation about the heat in the place, a standard placeholder, while we waited a few moments for Donna to return to the counter. She breezed back in, closing the inner door behind her. A slight whiff of cinnamon followed in her wake. I stood sentinel at the vinyl counter as she came around from the back and settled back into her place. It reminded me of a hairdresser returning to her styling chair, looking slightly out of place until she is standing there again with scissors in her hand.
In that brief moment before she inquired about my purpose for being there I remembered seeing her the day before, out of context, in the elementary school where my daughter goes to school. At first I couldn’t place her, even though I knew her face was familiar, until finally the puzzle pieces fit together, clicking into place. That’s how it is sometimes when people are out of their element.
But then there she was, decidedly back behind the counter where she belonged, and she smiled at me, at last ready to ask me what I needed. “Stamps,” I said. “A book,” I requested. Then they were there in her hand, traveling across the counter to land in mine, those lovely Forever stamps that used to come in only Liberty Bells, but that now have expanded to pretty much every stamp that comes out anymore.
As she told me that they cost $9.80 I mentally kicked myself once more for not stocking up on those Liberty Bells when they first came out, so that I would have only spent 2/3rds of that astronomical price to get the same number of stamps. But I handed my card over anyway, telling her to treat it like credit, because that’s what I use it as most of the time.
She checked the signature, even though she knew it was me. Who doesn’t know me in this small town? But I just smiled and mentioned the heat again, making the bearded gentleman behind me laugh in commiseration. Then I had the receipt in my hand that I had never asked for, and I said my goodbyes, headed out of the post office back into the harsh light of mid-afternoon in upstate New York.