A Warm Welcome
The phone rings at 8 am.
“Hello, Katey?” says a stranger’s voice.
“This is Penny, your postmistress.” She speaks clear as a bell but in my morning fog and with her true-thick accent, what I actually hear is: This is Peony, your mistress.
“Good morning,” I say, hesitantly.
“I see now you’re up Fork Mountain way, is that right?”
“Well, I’ve got a package for you today but there’s no way this one’s gonna fit in your box there. Now how far are you from the mailbox, ‘bout half a mile?”
“Well, I’m not aloud to drive any further than that off my route, but, you gonna be home today?”
“Yes ma’am, I’ll be here. Weather’s supposed to be fine. Why don’t you just leave it on the road there and I’ll come down and pick it up,” I say.
“No, no, that’s quite allright. I’ll come on up there. Been ages since I been all the way on up now, no problem at all. I’ll be there around noon, say, 12:30.”
“Alright, thank you very much. I’ll be here.”
As promised, Penny arrives around lunch time. I hear her car first, barreling up the mountain. She pulls into the turnaround at the top of the drive and lays out too long blasts on the horn. I holler from the loft window, “I’ll be out there in a minute!”
When I get outside I see she has a Jeep with four-wheel drive. She’s smiling and waving before I can even get a full glimpse of her but I make it up the log steps to her car and receive the package. It is an unbound version of a book I’ve been asked to copyedit and turnaround in 48 hours. The package has been sent overnight delivery and thanks to Penny, it’s in my hands now.
We make small talk in the driveway for about twenty minutes. I invite her in from some homemade chocolate cake I’ve just finished, but she shakes her head no. “Ordinarily I’d say yes, but I already received fresh muffins this morning.” She holds up a bag left to her by a loving customer.
I learn that she’s driven this route for upwards of twenty years now. She has two boys in the local schools and knows PD and her boys. She knew Stuart and Sandra, my friends and the owners of this house, and she even knows Grover over the other side of Fork Mountain all the way there in Buladean.
“I can sell you anything and everything the post office can,” she says. She hands me an ordering sheet and envelope. “Now, postage goes up on Monday so here’s the new information. And you can just leave me money in your box and I’ll sell you a new roll of stamps, new envelopes, whatever you need. I’m the same as the store only all fit up into this Jeep here.”
I pause in my questions to her and Penny jumps in. She wants to know my story. “Now Schultz, I got a brother married a Schultz once over there in Yancey county, you know them? Probably not. Where you from?” Clearly, she noticed my tone.
“Oregon, originally,” I say. “Don’t know about any Schultz’s out here. But my parents are over there in Celo.”
Penny nods. She knows that route and is friends with the driver, though she hasn’t driven it herself. She wants to know what I do for work and how I know Stuart and Sandra. I confess to her that I’ll be gone in June so the mail will pile up a bit. “But I’ve got a few folks coming by to check it now and then, so hopefully it won’t fill up and make you mad.” I smile at her. It feels good to tell her I’ll be gone, so that someone else knows what should and shouldn’t be going on up at the end of the road.
We finally say goodbye and she reminds me of her name again. “That’s right, Pee-oh-knee,” she says, making a quick three syllables out of the two syllable word. She pronounces it with such a thick accent that I almost feel to say it my way is truly improper.
“Peh-knee” I say, flat as cardboard.
She smiles. “Yup, you got it. Pee-oh-knee.”
I send her off with a wave and a laugh.