Ours was a neighborhood of older, retirees, and lower income families hoping to catch hold of the American dream. And in our neighborhood, few people held the import and esteem of our mail carrier. We waited on him, each and every day with baited breath - would he bring good news or bad news? Would he bring a check or a bill? He represented our hopes and dreams and sometimes unimaginable disappointments. Because in his bag was more than a flyer or advertisement; his bag determined our short-term futures.
Melville was our mail carrier. He was a tall, lean man with powerfully strong legs, a by-product of the many miles he covered daily. He always wore a smile no matter what the weather. The summer that he first took over the route, he parked his truck across the street from our house and aggravatingly teased us into believing that we would be the first in the neighborhood to receive our mail. But we were the last.
And on those first few days of summer, I would sit on the front porch and glare at him as he pulled his truck in front, loaded his bag, and smiled and waved at me as he began his route - in the opposite direction. Of course I had nothing important in the mail, perhaps Boys Life or a letter from a pen pal, but I hated waiting for another two hours for him to finish his route, at our house.
One day, though, my mother opened the screen door and said to me, "Let me know when mailman is near our house," and she closed the door and disappeared inside. When I saw Melville a few doors down, I called to my mother and relayed the news. Just as he finally stepped onto the porch and handed me the mail, my mother came out, carrying a tall, cold glass of iced-tea, and she said,"Hot day isn't it," and handed the glass to him.
Melville wiped his brow, took the tea, and said, "Yes ma'am. I sure appreciate this." He and my mother made idle chatter for a few minutes as he gulped the tea. The next day, it was the same routine, but this time, with a cold glass of lemonade. And we all engaged in a little friendly chatter. This went on for about two weeks.
Then one hot Monday afternoon, Melville pulled his truck out front, loaded his bag, but instead of walking away, he crossed the street, handed me our mail and said, "I'll see you in two hours." And I smiled as I took the mail. And for the rest of the summer we received our mail first, and Melville ended his route with friendly conversation and a nice cold drink. In fact, in didn't stop there. In the winter it was hot chocolate or a cup of coffee. And for as long as he had the route, when he came to our house, there was a seasonal appropriate beverage waiting for him. But more importantly, we became friends.
I once asked my mother how she knew that giving Melville a cold drink would get him to change his routine. And she laughed and said, "Son, you have so much to learn. I didn't give him a drink so that he would deliver our mail first. I gave him iced tea because he looked like he needed a refreshment, after a hard days work in the hot sun."
It's remarkable, isn't it, how my mother was able to teach me a lifelong lesson, from a simple act of kindness.