The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

R.F.D. Mail Carrier

By Eunice J. Pitchford © 1986

Issue: August, 1986

Daddy carried mail when routes outside of our town were called "Rural Free Delivery." The routes were numbered and labeled RFD #1 or #2, or a number in subsequent order. When he left his job helping to build military installations in Virginia (Petersburg and Norfolk) during World War I and returned home to Mebane, North Carolina, to get married, he learned that he was eligible for a mail route. He had previously passed it, and now his name headed the list. And so, I know that shortly after my parents wedding date of April 30, 1918, he went to work at the Mebane post office. Daddy had a leg that had slipped when set after a break when he was a small child and because of his problem leg, he had been turned down for military service.

A white horse named "Kelly" was hitched to the buggy and each weekday Daddy drove the 4 miles from farm into town to the post office, sorted the mail, and then set out on his route to the Hawfields community. If there was something pressing to do on the farm, then my mother drove the buggy and carried the mail as Daddy's substitute for the day. There were times of bitter cold, snow, and more often than not, plenty of sticky red clay to get through. Then there were warm and nice days when patrons could be outside and come to the box to chat with the mailman and get news of what was going on in their neighborhood.

Although Daddy only carried the RFD route some two or three years, I recall incidents that he used to relate from those days. One day he was leisurely letting his horse follow the familiar way while Daddy read a patron's magazine. Engrossed in a story, he chanced to look up and saw the patrons waiting at their box for him. He was reading their magazine and only half through the story. Quickly sitting on the magazine he drove on to the box. He handed whatever letter mail he had to the patrons and the lady said, "I thought sure my HOME COMFORT would be here today." Blandly, Daddy fingered through the magazines in front of her and said, "There's no HOME COMFORT in the lot. Maybe it will come tomorrow." And of course, it did. In later years I heard Daddy say, "I ought to have been ashamed of myself but I was young and brash - and I did it." (What he didn't mention was that he probably could have been fired for such a stunt.)

Another time, an elderly woman was very, very upset when he came by. Her son had got himself into more than a bit of mischief - actually trouble. She knew she had "raised him right" and was beside herself with the problem. When Daddy suggested that she pray about the matter, she replied, "Yesser, Mr. Jones, but you cain't pray when yer mad." And a bit of wisdom she did express!

As times were difficult for families whose sons were off fighting in France, the mailman of course knew when the family was getting alonged for piece of mail from overseas. He made it a point to alert them that they had a very important letter. As he acquired a Model-T Ford eventually to drive the route, he would honk the horn several times to attract attention when a letter from France arrived. (Farm houses were often some distance back from the road.)

Another story comes to mind about the Model-T. Mother knew how to drive prior to marriage as her father had had a Model-T, for several years and so when she and Daddy purchased theirs, she taught Daddy how to drive it. The day they bought it in Durham, they came to a spot where the pavement was washed out and she had to maneuver the wheels onto the rails of a streetcar track and get over the washout. Daddy used to proudly relate that when he told about Mother then teaching him how to drive. In later years when they bought a 1928 Oldsmobile, he turned the tables and taught Mother how to drive it and maneuver the gears and clutch.

My Daddy, Robert Jones, left farming and mail carrying to work for Standard Oil of New Jersey (now Exxon) and I can't remember when he was a RFD mailman but my birth certificate gives my father's occupation as that. He was a young man who enjoyed people and he held fond memories throughout his life of his years on the rural route. He always loved to read and maybe part of the fondness for the job was all the reading he did between the rural boxes while he was using the horse and buggy. I guess the Model-T spoiled that pleasure for him.