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Archive for Sunday, February 10, 2013

Lawhorn’s Lawrence: A mailman who delivered the mail and a smile

February 10, 2013

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Tom Carlson figures he must have taken over for old Billy Hayes about a year or so after John Lennon died.

You’ll have to excuse Carlson if he doesn’t have an exact date for you. He’s not really a numbers man. He’s more a man of letters. Lots of them.

Carlson has been a Lawrence mail carrier for 37 years, with about the last 30 years spent delivering the mail in West Hills and the other smaller neighborhoods just west of Kansas University’s campus.

Lawrence mail carrier Tom Carlson makes his way through the West Hills neighborhood on his final day of work Feb. 1 before retiring after 37 years on the job.

Lawrence mail carrier Tom Carlson makes his way through the West Hills neighborhood on his final day of work Feb. 1 before retiring after 37 years on the job.

As for John Lennon, Carlson just remembers he was going to a Lennon concert on the day Billy Hayes was going to have a tumor removed. About a year or so after that, the route became available, which is saying something since Hayes had been the only mailman the neighborhood had known for at least three decades.

In case you are trying to do that math, let me save you some time. That’s two mailmen for one neighborhood for a long time. Just how long is up for debate. One postal official told me he thought the neighborhood had only had two mailmen since World War II. Carlson thinks it's more likely it has been two since the Korean War.

But who knows? Carlson really isn’t a numbers man. At first glance, he’s not much of a spoken word man either — at least not with a man like me who writes down what people say for a living.

There are signs, though, that once he throws that mailbag over his shoulder he becomes one affable fellow. In fact, one such sign is carved in stone.

“There isn’t anybody up here who doesn’t think he is top notch,” said Barb Bishop, who has lived in the neighborhood near the campus since 1979.

In fact, Bishop and her husband, Ken, thought so highly of Carlson they had one of the limestone pavers leading to the mail slot on their house carved in honor of Carlson: “1st Class Postman Tom.”

“He had to put up with so much mud when we were rebuilding the walk, and he always did it with a smile,” she said.

The timing is coincidental, but Carlson hung up his postbag for good — retired — last week, just a few days before the Postal Service announced its plans to discontinue Saturday mail delivery.

Such a change — especially when the Postal Service cites dire financial conditions — has lots of people wondering what is to come of one of the country’s oldest traditions: the mailman (or mail carrier in this age.)

“I don’t know,” Carlson, or Tommy, as he’s known in the neighborhood, says. “I know I wouldn’t want to be working there if I had to do it another 37 years.”

That’s too bad because there are some pretty good benefits that come with a job that lets you walk through a neighborhood day after day. If you really want to know a place, try walking it almost daily for 29 years.

“I’ve seen a lot of kids grow up over the years,” Carlson said. “There are quite a few people who are there now who were there when I first started. It is a neat neighborhood. There are a lot of people who are just there forever.”

And Carlson had a simple policy for interacting with them.

“If they were out, we would talk,” Carlson said.

The neighborhood — Carlson delivered in the area generally west of campus, east of Iowa, south of Oxford and north of Crescent — still lends itself for a bit of old-fashioned conversation. Most of the houses still have mail slots near their front doors, rather than the mailboxes by the road — or worse yet, the large, industrial-looking multihouse boxes that pop up in new subdivisions like dandelions.

With the interaction came neighborly kindness, even if Carlson wasn’t officially a neighbor.

“There were some candies given at Christmas,” said Carlson, who surely had no problem walking off those calories. (He went through a pair of shoes about every six months, he said.) “Don Fambrough’s wife would make me a pecan pie every Christmas.”

Good pie and good times. Not every mailman is so lucky. It is no secret that mail volume started to decline in the 1990s as the Internet took off. Magazines, birthday cards, and in some ways most importantly, Social Security checks are less likely to arrive in the mail these days.

“People aren’t waiting for you by the door at the first of the month like they used to,” Carlson said.

But in a way, time perhaps moved a touch slower in this Lawrence neighborhood that is home to lots of professors, lawyers, bankers and other old-world types. Maybe that is why Carlson never moved to another route, although he certainly had the seniority to do so.

Maybe the next carrier will feel the same way too, but who knows?

“I’m just hoping whoever gets it enjoys it as much as I did,” Carlson said.

Residents of the neighborhood are hoping too. Bishop said a daily interaction with a friendly mail carrier is a nice slice of life in a neighborhood. But she’s not necessarily counting on having another Tommy.

In fact, you remember that stone she had carved with his name? Bishop had the stone mason — a friend of Carlson’s — take it to his retirement party last weekend. She wanted to make a delivery to the mailman for once.

Carlson was appreciative. “But I thought they should have just flipped it over and put the next person’s name on it,” he said.

That’s a nice thought. It would be nice to think that the days of carving a mailman’s name in stone aren’t behind us.

— Each Sunday, Lawhorn’s Lawrence focuses on the people, places or past of Lawrence and the surrounding area. If you have a story idea, send it to Chad at clawhorn@ljworld.com.

Comments

FlintlockRifle 1 year, 10 months ago

Good read Chad. ""Tommy"" have a great retirement for many years. As for wearing out shoes every six months, when my sons were little they could wear out a pair every six weeks or less, course they were cheaper shoes to, anyway --enjoy

hoshi 1 year, 10 months ago

Tom is a classy guy. We will miss him from the neighborhood. Have a great retirement.

tomatogrower 1 year, 10 months ago

He's a great guy, and really helped the elders in the neighborhood. I hope they replace him with an equally great person.

msezdsit 1 year, 10 months ago

I used to live in his delivery area for a few of those years and thought the world of Tom. He is a very genuine person and a first class gentleman. He will be missed but he served his community well and certainly deserves some time for himself. Good Luck Tom!!!!!!

Richard Heckler 1 year, 10 months ago

The timing is coincidental, but Carlson hung up his postbag for good — retired — last week, just a few days before the Postal Service announced its plans to discontinue Saturday mail delivery.

Such a change — especially when the Postal Service cites dire financial conditions — has lots of people wondering what is to come of one of the country’s oldest traditions: the mailman (or mail carrier in this age.)

Not necessarily true. http://www.hightowerlowdown.org/node/2927#.UResf6X3CX1

Okay so what we have is a bunch from ALEC and other deceptive clubs shelling out misinformation galore. These folks see tons and tons and tons of dollars they want in their bank accounts. But doing with lies,damn lies and more lies. Sound familiar.

Yes these are the zealots who launched plans to take over Social Security Insurance, our Public Schools,Medicare Insurance or any other program that is in fact doing well that will GUARANTEE them big profits without much labor.

BUT when they takeover thousands more if not millions will be out of jobs = hell on the economy. They will bring in whomever that will work for less wages and zero benefits = hell on the economy.

Don't expect a reduction in cost for services ! Do expect their bottom lines to grow beyond belief. The Fed EX CEO has been part of the Koch boards.

Yes these are the same minds that come running to taxpayers if their corporations aren't doing well for a bailout. Never mind these zealots hand out giant bonus packages while at the same claiming they may go bankrupt.

Richard Heckler 1 year, 10 months ago

Tom is a good reason to keep the USPS around as it is. Lots of good people working for the USPS. In fact we've had several dropping off mail. Not only that one elderly lady lives on the block in which the mail people go that extra mile to be sure she gets her mail at her front door simply because walking has become a bit of a chore.

I remember as a child seeing the same face day after day. Sooner or later everyone becomes part of the family. Not a bad deal. Mother would be sure to offer him water and for hot days a shot of lemonade.

George_Braziller 1 year, 10 months ago

Our route used to have the same carrier for years at a time. You knew each other on a first-name basis and they even knew the names of the cats and dogs on the route. A year ago our long-time carrier bid on a different route and ever since we've never had a permanent replacement. It's become letter carrier of the day and in a 30 day month there will be 15 or 20 different people who deliver mail anywhere between 9 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.

bluesky1960 1 year, 10 months ago

Yes, as a member of Delta Upsilon fraternity in the time period in question, I remember Billy Hayes, whom we referred to as "lightning" because he was so fast. (In fact, it was an ironic nickname, as he would stop to chat with anyone who was willing.) Billy Hayes was an African-American gentleman who was an unforgettable mailman. And yes, he got sick and I remember a young buck, Tom, who took over the route. Another great mailman who was friendly, to boot. Mail back then was often the only written contact you got from home. Thanks Tom for your years of service!

Rich Noever 1 year, 10 months ago

Mr. Hayes was the father of one of my classmates, Sandra Hayes. I never knew him, but judging by his daughter's comport, he must have been a classy guy!

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