One of the things I have always loved about Maine is it’s sense of independence, one that probably exists in all small towns around the nation. It’s still possible to buy a piece of remote land up here, drop off the grid and disappear. I can still plan a week long canoe trip that will avoid all human contact. We’re lucky to live in a state that still has gray areas and exceptions. One of the nice people at the town hall let me register my motorcycle on a Friday, when they knew I wouldn’t have a document that allowed me to ride legally until Monday, with a beautiful weekend forecast. They made me promise I wouldn’t ride it ’till Monday. They trusted me…I promised…and kept my word. Think that would happen in CT where I grew up? Ha…good luck with that. Speaking of motorcycles, thanks to a good political action committee we’re one of the few states where you have the personal freedom to make your own choice as to whether or not you want to wear a helmet. And despite all the spins anyone can put on that idea, it is indeed a personal freedom, and one that we will lose in time. I once popped out of the woods from hunting to find a state trooper idling behind my car. I walked right up to his drivers side window, 12 guage shotgun in tow to find out he was just making sure everything was ok. How many states can you walk up to a state trooper with a gun? In other states back-up would have been called and I would have been spread-eagled on his car hood…you can bet on that. I used to know all the cops in town and unless you were doing something well outside the law, they left you alone. They kept the secrets that needed keeping, and did what they felt was right, and everything was as it should be. We are losing those little freedoms here slowly but surely, drip by drip. Each year there is a little tiny something that changes and limits our freedoms in some small way, bringing us closer to the cookie cutter one size fits all nanny states found in the cities of our nation, where you’re a number and not a person.
For me, interestingly, this subtle change of limited freedom boiled down to the microcosm of a Post Office box in Seal Harbor.
PO Box 311.
We don’t have rural delivery here..we all have to go to the post office to get our mail. They tried to get delivery here, but it was refused by the townspeople. Why? Socialization. For generations the post office was the place to socialize with the rest of the town, and at 9 am when the mail was out it used to be packed with people talking and catching up on gossip. Just like in the good ole days. Having this kind of system brings with it a set of challenges in getting things delivered, and I swear about it regularly, but for the most part it works. PO Box 311 has been in my family since the post office in town was built. Well, maybe not that long, but at least since the early 1930′s. Some of my earliest memories are of going to that post office to get the mail for our family, and for the folks that my grandfather got the mail for. My grandfather also had a prolific rose garden, and he brought a bouquet of roses to the post office on a routine basis during the summer months. My parents have kept up that tradition since his passing, so literally my family has kept roses in the post office for 60 years or more. Again, something you can enjoy in a small town. For my entire LIFE PO Box 311 was never locked. It was pushed to…closed, but not latched, a scenario that again, persisted for 60 years or more. Then, the postmistress for all of those years retired, and we got a new one…not from Maine..or a small town. I arrived after work the day after she arrived to find the postbox was locked, probably for the first time ever. I know it was trivial, and I know in the grand scheme of things this is the stuff your supposed to let slide. I’m not sure if I was tired, had a bad day, or what, but something snapped in my head that day. One person wasn’t going to inconvenience me in this small way. I asked her to open it for me, and why it was locked. She gave me a dirty look, opened it for me, and said they were going to be locked from now on…I wondered if that was in a memo somewhere. I didn’t have the combination..no one in my family even knew what it was, and I asked her for it. I noticed many other people from town having the same issue, and I suspect she had a very bad day at work that first day, for what in her mind was a simple decision to keep the boxes closed..the way it was where she came from. For me, this was going to be an issue, and daily I would leave the box door closed, but not locked to find it locked the next day. I would ask her to open it, ask again for the combination, tell her I couldn’t get it to work and in general try to make things as difficult as possible for the next several weeks. I suspect others did as well. Then one day I arrived and it wasn’t locked, and it continued to not be for the rest of her stay. A tiny victory for a trivial issue, but nevertheless my freedom to have the post office box open in a small town was intact. Being a small town, everybody knows one another, and often would ask someone to get their mail if they new they were going to be gone during the hours that the post office was open. Pretty much everyone did it at some point or another. Turns out there was a memo against that too. I can understand that rule in a large city, but here there are no strangers, or people looking to steal your mail. After several months of dealing with all of this I think eventually the new postmaster knew everybody, and learned that there are some places left in the world where one size fits all doesn’t apply. Our boxes stayed unlocked,people were able to get one another’s mail, and things were back to the way they should be.
After the new postmaster retired we had a fill in for a couple of years. He was from the next town over, so there really weren’t any problems. The only one I can remember is he was just a bit to nosy, and when you came in for your mail, he would talk to you about what you got that day. “Hey I saw you got something from the Maine Sportsman today, did you write another story for them?” He meant well, but sometimes it did get a little irritating. I never got around to it but I always wanted to play a little joke on the guy, and send away for something like Swinging sexy singles group cruise or something similar. Before I got the chance, we had a new postmaster, and before I knew it, I was writing a letter on his behalf. The town swells with people in the summer, many of them have million dollar homes where they just spend a couple of months out of the year. The new postmaster seemed like a nice guy, he was quiet, and we had really barely spoken. He had been there for several months, when I heard the news from someone in town, that he was very upset that someone had complained that he couldn’t bring his dog with him to work anymore. Dog?? I hadn’t even noticed that there was a dog there. While it was being hashed out, I took the time to notice the dog, and give him a treat. I took note that the way the post office was set up, it was impossible for the dog to reach anybody. He was behind the back counter, with a door and a wall between him and any post office patrons. Why would anyone complain about that? Apparently the word came down from the USPS that the dog had to go because of the complaint, and I overheard the postmaster telling someone that the dog was confused in the mornings now, having to stay home, and was acting like he had done something wrong. It also turned out that the complainant was a summer person…someone here for just a couple of months a year changing the way things work the rest of the 10 months. I went home and put pen to paper. I wish I still had the letter…it was well crafted. I described the town, why we had the post office and not rural delivery, that we had a lot of elderly people in town whose entire DAY was planned around going to the post office just to see that dog, and give him a treat. I explained how we were a small town, and it’s little things like this that make us special, and make us appreciate living in a place like this. I would not expect to see a dog in a store in Hartford, but if I walk into a country store in Maine, I do expect to see a dog, and maybe even the occasional chicken running around. The same goes for a rural post office in Maine. Sometimes there are exceptions to rules, and the cookie cutter mentality doesn’t apply. How is it we have turned into a place where one person can ruin it for everybody, bringing everything down to the lowest common denominator? Why is it we can’t respond by saying “Yes there is a dog in this Post Office. If you have an issue with that there are several other Post Offices within a couple of miles that you can use.” But no one ever says that. They just say the dog has to go, and he gets to sit home thinking he’s done something wrong, while the summer person who complained jets off to somewhere else for 10 months and bitch about something there too probably. My letter was a two page plea and essay to this manager asking her to reconsider her decision. I got a short letter back from here thanking me for my thoughts but basically that rules were rules. I had expected that. The next day when I walked into the post office, the postmaster asked me if I was the one that wrote the letter about his dog the the USPS. I said that I was. He looked at me with the sincerest look in his eye and said “Thanks”. “That was a really nice thing for you to do, and I really appreciate it.” Turns out he is privy to any complaint or praise about the Post Office, so he saw my letter. It also meant he knew the identity of the person that complained. I wasn’t the only one that it bothered…others in town started a petition…I signed it, as well as about 40 others or so. 40 people saying they want the dog back, and because of that one person, the USPS said no to the petition too. I know you’re thinking that there are bigger things to worry about, but sometimes worrying about these simple little things is what is key to keeping the bigger pieces of our freedom and liberty later. It’s what makes us special and unique. It turned out however, that we all won. I’ll never know if perhaps the Post Office was in on the deal, moved by our petition and letter, but the way it worked out was that the Postmaster would know, or be told when the complainant was in town. When she was there, the dog stayed home. When she wasn’t there, the dog was at the Post Office and gave many years of pleasure and fun to everyone, but especially the elderly folks that came to see him, make of him, and give him a treat. I’ll guarantee you that it made their entire day, and gave them something to look forward too. That’s what makes a small town special.
That’s the story of PO Box 311. There are many secrets in this town, some open, some guarded, and some hidden behind a Post Office box number. I wish I could hear all of them.