I wrote this essay the summer that Chips was a puppy, 1993. Hope you enjoy it!
It’s summer now, and my work has taken me for a few weeks to a tiny midwestern town. I just returned from a walk to the Post Office to buy stamps. Chips, my mini golden retriever puppy, accompanied me as he usually does on walks. The Post Office was sized to fit the rest of the town. That made it not much larger than one of the postage stamps I went to purchase. Let’s just say that the atmosphere at the counter was close when there were only two people doing business. I expected a friendly small-town attitude.
I did look to see if there was a sign outside saying “No dogs allowed.” I’m not sure just what I had planned to do if there had been one. Tying Chips up outside was not an option since he can slip his harness as neat as you please. But there really wasn’t any sign. So we went in and I bought the stamps, while the puppy checked the carpet for items of interest. I remained at the counter to put the stamps on the letters I wanted to mail, since there weren’t a lot of other spaces one could use to accomplish such a task. Meanwhile a prim postmistress appeared and asked archly, “Do I hear a Dog? Only seeing-eye dogs are allowed because we don’t want to be liable if someone is bitten.”
I guess I must truly be getting ornery, because I never budged. That sort of reprimand would have sent me scurrying with apologies a few years ago. I didn’t even offer my standard comment that this dog might only lick someone to death. We just finished our business, and then left. I suppose I won’t be able to take him next time.
I don’t really think of myself as old, but this establishment was vastly different from the Post Office of my childhood days, which was about the same size. That facility was a storefront office in a block of buildings which must have looked ancient when they were built. It was dark and cool inside, and smelled like old varnish. There were no windows in the narrow room where the letter boxes were, except the two barred clerk’s windows, like the teller’s windows in an old-time bank. These were on the right as you walked in; to enter the room was like walking into a hallway. Along the back wall were rows of small, dark brass doors with an eagle on each one. The little pane of glass, through which you could check to see if you had mail, rode on the eagle’s back. Below the eagle’s claws was the dial combination lock.
The Postmaster’s name was John Kellogg, and he was usually to be found behind one of those sets of bars. The Post Office itself had two, or perhaps three, actual windows which showed on the alley. These were about three feet off the floor, and set in the back wall, behind the clerk’s windows. The building may have had few windows to add physical light, but in the afternoons when school dismissed it did have lots of happy boys and girls running cheerily in and out.
The windows had wide recessed sills. I suppose that was because they were surrounded by shelves for sorting mail. But we children never looked at the design reasons for the wide window sills, we knew that they were there for one primary reason: so that Anthony could take his naps. Anthony was a Scottish Terrier, owned by Mr. Kellogg. He was not one of the shrill miniature terriers popular now. Anthony was grand. He was as large as the Field Spaniel my family owned at the time, but proportioned differently, of course. He was black and square, as if someone had set a large black bar of soap on its side and roughly carved out a rectangular head, and pillars for legs set on the central rectangular body.
It was our delight when Mr. Kellogg would tell us that Anthony was feeling well enough to come out and let us pet him. Mr. Kellogg kept telling us that Anthony was really old, and that he didn’t like to play for very long. We thought that this must be all mixed up, because obviously Anthony was just a fine dog, and Mr. Kellogg was the one who was ancient! After all, he had hardly any hair (Mr. Kellogg, that is!). When we had petted Anthony, who regally accepted our affections, Mr. Kellogg would give us each a nickel. I guess I’ve never stopped to consider how Anthony got back up on his high perch or why Mr. Kellogg gave away what must have been thousands of nickels over the years. We all raced off to Mr. Wickes Drugstore to buy tiny Cherry Cokes with our newly acquired riches.
I’m sure that the government defines the building I visited today as an official office of the United States Postal Service, but all real Post Offices, in my opinion, should be cool and inviting, with a sleepy dog on a sunny window sill.
See yesterday's post: In Memory of Hoover Houdini Chips