By Tom Kirkpatrick Sr.
As I get older, I have a tendency to reflect back on childhood memories, to a time when my life centered on the present with no regrets about the past or concerns about the future. Today, these memories reside in a kind of golden glow, perhaps caused by the sun’s rays passing through the haze of a childhood summer morning.
One of these memories concerns my grandfather, who was a rural mail carrier serving an area of farms and rural communities south of the Mohawk Valley of central New York from the early days of the Great Depression in 1930 until his retirement in 1956.
In the summer, I sometimes got to ride along with him. This was always an adventure, though as I found out later, not entirely legal. But what harm could a 10-year-old do?
The night before, I would stay at my grandparents’ home. By the time I came down for breakfast, my grandfather had already been to the post office, sorted his mail, placed it in his car and come home to eat.
After breakfast, we set out. In the back seat and trunk of his car, in addition to my grandfather’s mailbag and parcel post packages, were various items, like bags of feed, dry goods and hardware items he had picked up for the farmers on his route based on the shopping lists they placed in their mailboxes.
His route stretched from the Village of Fort Plain on the Mohawk River, southwest along New York Route 80. For about 12 miles, the route followed the twists and turns of the Otsquago Creek that rose in the hills northeast of Otsego Lake and flowed north to the Mohawk.
The route passed through rural hamlets with names like Valley Brook, Hallsville and Starkville, while intersecting rural roads with names like Pickle Hill, Frog City and Primrose Lane. As we went along, my job was to place mail in the roadside boxes. In those days before seat belts, I would sometimes have my entire upper body out the passenger window to place mail in a box.
By midmorning, we reached Van Hornsville, halfway to Cooperstown. Here my grandfather dropped the mail for local postal box holders at the general store/post office and had his usual visit with the proprietor and customers, while I got to choose a bottle of Fanta orange soda or Tru Ade from a tub filled with ice and water. The store itself and the people in it were right out of the movies. Van Hornsville was a picturesque hamlet with substantial homes built of local stone.
Here we left Route 80 and Otsquago Creek behind, heading northwest into the hills above Van Hornsville where deliveries were made to the farms in that area. On this part of the route in the 1930s, when winter plowing was neither as extensive or effective as it now is, my grandfather kept a horse at a local farm to cover this section following winter storms.
Later, in the same area, during an early 1950s winter, he rolled his Studebaker Commander into a ditch on icy pavement. A farmer and tractor pulled him out, and another patched his leaking gas tank and he completed his route, crushed car top, smashed windows and all. He truly adhered to the unofficial postal creed that “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”
Even today I am struck by the special relationship he had with the people on his route. He brought more than mail. In a time when farmers were more isolated than now, he was their connection to the world.
In early afternoon, with the route completed, we went home for lunch. And I was left with memories that remain clear to this day.