The Biggest Event of the Day in Oysterville

Jun 16, 2014 | 1 comment

Oysterville Store and Post Office c. 1940

Oysterville Store and Post Office c. 1940

“Getting the mail” is a Big Deal in Oysterville. I don’t remember mail being an ‘event’ in other places that I’ve lived – places where the mail is delivered house-to-house every day. In fact, in my childhood in Alameda, I think the mail came twice a day. It was placed in the mailbox on the wall of the front porch and whoever came home first scooped it up and put it on the kitchen table.

In Oysterville, though, it seems to me that the mail was the most important event of the day. First there was the scramble in the household to finish up any correspondence or other items that needed to go with my grandfather (“Papa”) to the post office. While he waited, he often trimmed his beard or mustache although, come to think of it, it was probably the other way around – I, having collected all the outgoing mail standing on one foot and then the other waiting for him.

Then we would climb in his old Plymouth and he would drive (“like a bat out of hell” one of the neighbors often remarked, rudely I thought) to Minnie and Bert’s store and post office. I don’t remember ever walking that distance with Papa; we always went by car and, in memory at least, so did everybody else.

Inside the Oysterville Post Office, 2010

Inside the Oysterville Post Office, 2010

There would follow a very long time of buying and affixing stamps, collecting ‘our’ mail (which was never even glanced at until we got home) and discussing any late-breaking village news with postmistress Minnie and any other neighbors who were on their way in or out of the post office. I remember that part as interminable and I have no doubt that anyone still living who remembers my grandfather has a like-feeling about those visits. Oh how he loved to talk!

I don’t think we went into the store very often – not unless Bert was there and Papa wanted to say “hello.” On those occasions, I’m sure I stood on the little step-stool (provided for kids like me) and looked into the rounded-glass topped candy case, but I have few memories of getting any treats. Actually, then like now, I wasn’t very crazy about sweets.

Then, home we went and headed for the nursery (which today would be called the family room) to read the mail. Everyone stopped what they were doing and gathered round. Unless the incoming mail was of a very personal or private nature, everything was read aloud by the recipient. I never gave that a thought as a child, but I imagine that it was a habit Papa acquired as my grandmother gradually lost her sight. By my day, she was blind and the daily mail was a high point of the morning.

Harry and Helen Espy in the Nursery by Hilda Cole Espy, 1947

Harry and Helen Espy in the Nursery by Hilda Cole Espy, 1947

And it wasn’t just straight-ahead reading. Each bit of information was discussed and digested right down to the way it was written, the various possibilities of meaning and so on. On paper days – in those days, the Chinook Observer and the Ilwaco Tribune which came one on a Tuesday and one on a Friday I thinkPapa might hit the highlights but then the rest of us would leave to go about the day’s activities. I can still see Papa sitting at his desk, totally absorbed by the news and often chuckling at “some fool thing” one of the editors had said.

In a way, Nyel and I follow in that same tradition. Usually, it’s he who drives to the post office and comes home with a “Mail Call!” announcement, and we take a coffee break to open and read whatever has come our way – mostly bills and junk mail these days. And on paper day, he’s the one perusing the ads and the police blotter and the editorial page. Some things don’t change much in Oysterville. Thank goodness!

1 Comment

  1. Stephanie Frieze

    In the days before the Internet and when talking to those far away was a “long-distance” call at a substantial charge, the mail was our FaceBook! I know that my mother talks about there being two deliveries in Vancouver, WA when she was growing up and in those helicon days following WWII, even Bellevue had two deliveries during the Christmas season due to the bulk of Christmas cards and packages delivery. I remember the mail being a big deal to my Grandma Frieze. She’d watch for the mailman and carefully look over the mail, frequently reading I aloud when I was there. She was an avid letter writer too, and I’m happy to say I saved her letters as well as most of what my father wrote from Enewetok when he was away helping test the atomic bomb. When my mother and I went and spent extended periods of time at my grandparents beach house in Seaview, the mail was a big deal. Every day we’d walk down to Sugarman’s Store (now the vet) and wait for the bus, bringing the mail, to arrive at the little post office next door (now a cottage). There would be lots of folks, some local, some summer, milling around outside, waiting for the mail to be “put out.” Finally the postmistress (I wish I knew her name) would raise her window and we could go in and ask for mail sent “general delivery.” There would be letters from my father and as I got older, letters from friends including from boys! Nowadays most of the mail is filled with ads and bills. I find myself more anxious to check our Comcast account than either of our mailboxes, but every once in a while I get snail mail which I pour over repeatedly, just like in those bygone days.


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