By Samantha Graves
In 2011, the United States Post Office was forced to close several offices across the country in an effort toward solvency. North Hoosick was one of the offices on that list, but the community rallied and the office, the third smallest in the United States, was spared and remains open six days a week. In neighboring Schenectady County, the Alplaus Post Office was not so fortunate and closed January of 2012. During the community effort to keep that office open, one resident referred to the lobby as the “town’s living room.”
As Postmaster Relief for North Hoosick, no phrase rang truer. Things have been tough lately. There’s a very real anxiety that falls as shadow with every step we take and while I often cry on the way home from my little office, I am more often than not crying for the love I feel for those around me demonstrating enormous courage and compassion for others. But sometimes it also hits me – the memory of the day I interviewed for the position at North Hoosick. In which the Postmaster leaned over his desk and said, “Are you sure you want this? You’ll have a lot of people who just show up because they have no one to talk to.” He was right and I’ve never enjoyed a post more.
Since that day, I’ve enjoyed hearing stories from the regulars to strangers who come in just to marvel at our smallness. Sure, it’s weird sometimes, but mostly we really are the heart of the community; the proverbial living room of the town. Just this past Christmas or New Year’s Eve, we stayed open past close, the tiny lobby filled with customers shoulder to shoulder, laughing and sharing story. It was a magical time, especially as I reflect on those cozy evenings now.
For my family, newcomers from northern Michigan, the experience of working for North Hoosick has been more about forging friendships and sense of community than about work. The experience has taught me that there are two post offices; the one that functions as a business and the other, a network closely tied to community. It’s that second part I love. The one in which we make sure medications reach those in need or someone gets a letter that makes them laugh and they feel the need to share the news. Even the silly parcels like the light saber that arrived last week, bring joy to people.
When the pandemic struck, I was given the option of a temporary leave. My own parents even offered to pay me to quit the post office. There was a Sunday recently when I seriously considered it. The risk, the fear, it’s all very real. But the reward in the connection I feel each time a familiar face walks through the door; it’s so much stronger a pull to stay. Just the other day a customer told me she thought people needed this place as much as they need a pharmacy or a grocery store; it’s a comfort, something familiar that reminds them of what normal felt like.
Today, North Hoosick may not look as it did just a month ago, plastered in signage warning people about Covid-19, divided up in sheets of protective plastic, and then there’s me, who once encouraged friendly conversation, now chasing people out for their own safety donning a mask and gloves. We get visits from the Health Department making sure we’re operating in compliance because frankly, our smallness, is to our detriment during this virus. And yet, juxtaposed with the physical smallness, is the enormity of what we represent to people. And I take that seriously. Taking time between delivering mail to car windows to clean each knob and surface. It’s been lonely but has given me time to reflect back on all those wonderful stories. The story of why Box 81 is located between 66 and 67. Of Box 7. That box was recently closed. Inherited as many of our boxes have been from parents and grandparents going back through the years, Box 7’s renter, on her last visit to our office, said through tears she had been checking that box since she was old enough to reach the dial. We hugged and cried the day she was forced to close last month, so she could be closer to her son out west. And like a sentimental fool, I couldn’t bear to discard her receipt, so instead I date stamped it “North Hoosick 12133” and left it in that sacred wooden frame behind the glass stamped “7.”
So many stories, so many generations, so many ghosts…
Anyway, as any clerk feels inclined to do, I will do my part to keep our tiny office open and safe for our customers during this trying time. Because what I’ve come to realize is that as much as our community needs this place, so do I. It is a home away from home. And a place where someday we will once again crowd into the cozy lobby space on the eve of holidays and look back at this time realizing just how much it revealed. Yes, our vulnerabilities, but also enormous strength, perseverance, and reverence for story. It really is a kind of living room shared by all, where our stories, like people will always have a home.