People lament a lot these days that folks just don’t talk to each other any more.
The concept of a cop who walks a beat and knows everyone is long gone. Neighbors never seem to even know each other any more.
But there’s one exception. The letter carrier, what they used to call the mailman.
They deliver the mail to homes on the same route, day after day, year after year. They get to know their customers. They’ll chat sometimes so residents don’t feel alone. They’ll notice when something doesn’t seem right.
It pays off sometimes.
As it did on June 22.
Diane Reed started as a substitute letter carrier in Churubusco in 1993, became a regular carrier in 2003, and has been working the same route in a rural area for the last five years.
On that June day, she stopped at one of the homes on her route to deliver the mail and noticed something unusual.
Reed knows the people on her route, and this particular house was a hardship case. It was an older woman who had trouble walking. She’d take the mail to her door.
But that day Reed noticed the garage door was partly open, and she saw her customer, a woman of 80, still dressed in her nightgown, sitting sideways in the car.
The woman had locked herself out of her house at 6:30 in the morning. A spare key in the garage was missing. She had no phone to call anyone, and her neighbors were too far away for her to walk to them.
So she sat in her car for six hours, waiting for the one person she knew would come by – her letter carrier.
Reed, who had a telephone, called one of the woman’s relatives, who took her to her home because she couldn’t get in the house, either. Eventually, though, the woman got back into her home.
Monday morning, postal officials had a surprise ceremony at the Churubusco post office, where Reed was given a letter of commendation from the postmaster general, labeling her a hero for coming to the rescue along her route.
"I thought it was just an inter-office thing," Reed said, but the commendation was from the very top.
Letter carriers are nominated by their postmasters when they hear about these events. But a lot of times, nobody hears about it.
"We probably have heroes doing these things every day," said Mary Dando, a postal service spokeswoman from Indianapolis.
"The postal service delivers to every single address in the United States," Dando said. A lot of the people are elderly. Their families are away. "The only person coming to their house is the carrier. They’ll chat, and people won’t feel so alone."
According to Churubusco Postmaster Lori Thomas, "It’s something our customers come to appreciate."
Carriers, she said, "are very tuned in to their neighborhoods and neighbors. Many times we don’t hear about the things they do. They don’t think of themselves as heroes."
Reed said letter carriers notice when something seems amiss and talk to neighbors to find out whether everything is OK.
"A lot more goes on than you think, especially in rural areas," Reed said. "It happens all the time."
About a year ago on an icy day, a woman had fallen on ice and landed behind a bush where no one would notice her. It was a letter carrier who happened by and heard her cry for help.
Postal workers, Reed said, are very conscientious.
Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, fax at 461-8893, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.