Posting from the center of town

Published 7:57 pm Monday, July 6, 2015

When I was a kid growing up on a farm in Australia, we would visit town for just one thing only if something broke down and we needed a part for emergency repairs.

Mostly when we piled into the car or squeezed in the front of the “ute” (short for utility — Australian for pickup) and headed into town, there’d be a list.

When we arrived, it would be either stinking hot or bracingly cold. First, we’d stand at the wood-paneled counter at the bank, the only place in town where kids behaved on account of the atmosphere.

Email newsletter signup

At the butchery, we’d listen to the high whine as a man in a blue-and-white-striped apron cut lamb chops at the band saw, savoring what was the best smell in town — as fresh as it gets without running around in a paddock.

From there, a visit to the fruit and vegetable mart, where Mrs. Newstead would weigh each bag of produce, print and stick labels on, then tally the order on a push-button cash register.

The rural supply store was next, where Dad would engage the clerks in long conversations about local goings-on and always the weather, before they’d load onto the ute shearing combs and castrator rings, welding rods and cut-off discs, scarifier “points,” a bag or two of kibbles and brown paper bags of milk powder mostly for orphaned lambs, but the sheepdogs were always hopeful.

Nine times out of ten, the post office would be the last port of call. It always had an interesting assortment of stationery, packaging items, greeting cards and random novelty items of great interest to a kid, like fake moustaches and toy fingerpringing kits.

These were the days before texting, emails and Facebook, and though the landline telephone was another option for communicating with people in places far away, you’d know before pushing open the heavy wooden front door to the post office that it was likely to be the day’s longest errand.

The line would often snake outside the door. If it was hot, folks would fan themselves with the letters they were there to mail. If cold, there wasn’t much that could be done.

After a while, us kids would grow bored and ask for the keys so we could wait in the ute. We’d sit listening to the radio and watching people we mostly knew pull up and join the end of the line.

From the conversations between Mom and Dad on the dusty drive home, it was clear the post office was the best place to find out about things.

And with that reminiscence, I’d like to thank Lee Ann Burnette, who retired from Suffolk post office last week.

During 36 years of service, she was an important thread in the fabric of life in Suffolk.