Rosemary and the Mail
By Barry Dalton
One house that Rosemary Dodd recalls delivering mail to had a fancy mailbox with a chain on it.
“In the summertime, you’d touch that chain and you’d get your fingers blistered,” she recalls.
“But you got to know your routes and the people who lived there,” she continues as she sits in her home with her companion, a petite Pomeranian named Nutmeg, on her lap. “Being a mail carrier is a lot more than just carrying mail. You check on people. If they didn’t pick up their paper from the day before, you called somebody in their family or you tried to get a hold of them or something. You had to do something.”
One day, Dodd heard some cries from one of the homes she was approaching.
“The lady hardly ever got mail, but she did this day, on a Saturday, and I heard her hollering, and I thought, ‘boy, it sounds like a peacock. Is this someone in here in trouble or is this a bird? I thought golly—so I opened the door a little bit and said hello, and she said, ‘come and help me, come and help me.’ She had tried to lower her blinds and the string got wrapped around her fingers.
Dodd got a kitchen knife and cut the cord before it could cut off the elderly woman’s circulation.
“There’s no telling how long she would have been there,” Dodd said.
And although emergencies like this were rare, Dodd says, she regularly brought mail up to the homes of elderly or disabled people.
“There’s time when people weren’t able to get to their box,” she said. “We took the mail in for them. It was just the decent thing to do.”
Little did Dodd know at the time that one day she, too, would need the help of a rural postal carrier in an incident that might seem innocuous to some, but if you’re elderly or disabled can be terrifying.
Rosemary, 83, began working for the postal service when she was 41. She worked in a dozen different branches in Missouri and did just about every job the post office had, including as a carrier. When she reached her late 50s and early 60s, though, she primarily began to clerk, assisting the carriers as needed.
She has lived in rural Audrain County, about six miles from Wellsville, since 1974. Located in Montgomery County, Wellsville has a small post office where Rosemary worked for 35 years.
“I’ve been in a lot of post offices,” she said. “I started as a clerk/carrier, that’s what they called it back then. But I carried mail. City mail. Of course we had that bag, you know. Heavy.”
Dodd was a machinist in Indiana and at A.B. Chance before taking the civil service test to work at the Postal Service. She worked on aircraft parts as a class 7 lathe operator but ultimately decided she wanted more responsibility and better hours.
“Aircraft parts is very touchy,” she says. “On a grinder, you don’t have any tolerance, it’s less than a thousandth.”
Her first time carrying mail on a full route, Dodd recalls, was just after a snowstorm.
“We had to wade (through) snow up to my knees,” she says. The postmaster at the time wasn’t sure she was tough enough, so she says he directed the man training her on her first route to show her what to do but to not help her.
“The first day, I was on a short route, it’s only five miles,” she said.
“But I pulled a groin muscle. I thought ‘oh my gosh, what am I going to do, I want this job.’ Boy, it hurt bad. The next day I was on the long route and that’s like 10 or 12 miles. Standing on cement for many years [as a machinist], I figured there was going to be nothing to it. But I had blisters between my toes, up and down my ankles, up and down my legs like you can’t believe.”
She says she was surprised by how tiring delivering mail was—she had to stop several times to rest. A route that was supposed to be done by noon took her all day the first time she tried, she admits.
“So the other clerk took the afternoon route,” Dodd continues. “Well, the next morning I couldn’t raise my legs.”
That’s when the mail carrier who was training her stepped up and gave her a little pep talk. He told her that after what he saw her do, he knew she could do the job. The next time out on the route, he let her manage the package logs while he handled the mail. That was a Wednesday, and by Saturday, after a B-12 shot from the doctor, Dodd says she was able to do the route on her own, and on time.
Since then, Dodd has also worked in branches at Cottleville, St. Peters, New Florence, Williamsburg, Hawk Point, Columbia, Mexico, Vandalia, Laddonia and of course Wellsville. She even got to fill in as an acting postmaster several times, she says.
“Everything was changing,” she said. “Different postmasters came in, and I would fill in for postmasters all over the place. I was amazed at St. Peters. I had a $10,000 drawer there. At Wellsville, I had a $300 drawer, you know.”
When she was working second shift in Columbia, her bosses told her that anytime she wanted a job, they had one for her.
“Because I’d go in there and I could run three different sections of mail that had trays of mail, you had to weigh it, so you had a big cart that you pushed that had all the trays full of mail,” she says.
“Shoot, I could sort out several different towns in just a matter of hours.”
Dodd says that being a hopeless romantic made her work for the postal service truly meaningful for her. “I have read through the years that, like during the second world war, a letter that didn’t get to where it was supposed to be, how it affected people’s lives. How important a piece of mail can be.”
Dodd, who was married to Bob Dodd for 48 years, retired when she was 75. Her husband died last January.
“I loved him, and he loved me. I really miss him,” she says. “He was a real good dozer man and a real good barber.”
As she’s gotten older, Dodd says her body has begun to break down. She used to walk miles to deliver mail, but now she has trouble even making it to her own mailbox, which is located at the end of her long gravel driveway. Even tending to her garden right outside her sliding glass doors can be hazardous for her—as she found out the day she fell down and couldn’t get back to her house.
“I was trying to take care of the bird feeders,” Dodd explains. “I stepped on that patio and tripped. I’ve got drop foot, and I didn’t pick my foot up enough.”
She didn’t panic, but she laid there a while before Teddy Hoyt, a rural carrier for Vandalia’s Farber branch, came walking up the driveway to bring her mail to her door.
“He came by, thank God, got me up, got me in the house,” she said. “And I fell again in here, and he got me up again. Bless his heart. And he’s not young. Teddy is 75.”
Hoyt says he sees it as just a part of his job, but he was glad he could be there for Rosemary when she needed him. He remembers the story of a woman he knows who went down in her basement and got her ankle caught in a pallet between two boards for two days until someone noticed her mail stacking up.
“I always bring the mail up here since Bill passed away,” Hoyt said.
“You have customers that if there’s more than two days’ mail left in that box, there’s something wrong. So you pretty well know.”
As for Rosemary, she says that Teddy is a blessing to her.
“When I go to do something, I always try to do it before he’s supposed to be here,” she says. “So if something’s wrong, he can find me. It’s terrible to do that, but what am I going to do? I’d be lost without him. It’s a blessing. He’s a great guy.”
Postal veteran Rosemary Dodd with her companion, Nutmeg, and rural mail carrier Teddy Hoyt.