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If the Postmark Says Friendship, We Mean It

EVERY letter dispatched from our Friendship post office is personally hand-canceled by our mail (female) lady postmaster, Phyllis Conary, who for some reason is not accorded the distinguishing title of postmistress. Phyllis does this because she is proud of our tidy little community and wants everybody to know she cares enough to do the very best. She could, as so many postmasters now do, save herself some thwacking and pass her outgoing mail on to the central distributing office, where stamps are canceled by a machine and nobody cares about Friendship - to the machine we are 04547.

There has just come to me a form letter with this first paragraph:

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Dear Postal Customer: As part of our modernization of mail processing procedures, the Portland post office has installed electronic equipment to speed the cancellation and distribution of first class mails. Occasionally a piece of mail will be caught in this equipment and become torn or damaged in some other way.

With this confession of failure, the postmaster at Portland has apologized that a letter addressed to me was thus abused, and he hopes that I will excuse the inconvenience.

All is forgiven at the moment, but if the postal experts ever insist that Phyllis stop thwacking with her long-handled cancellation stamp and feed her output into the electronic equipment - thus eliminating our Friendship postmark - I shall be heard.

Not long ago I mentioned here that my wife and I had been to the delightful community of Saint Louis du Ha! Ha!, Quebec, and that we had posted a handful of cards to let friends know there is such a place. I asked the clerk there to postmark my cards carefully, so the town's name would be easy to read, and she said she always did because so many people were glad to hear from Saint Louis du Ha! Ha! I think people are glad to hear from Friendship.

The regional stamp canceling doesn't say where the letter was posted. This puts the kibosh on that sidebar of philately which collects postmarks. Years ago, Louie Stuart told me he had collected the postmarks of every Maine post office, and I asked him about the RPOs. He'd never thought about them! So he set about that, and shortly had them, too, and as this was just before the Railway Post Office went into its decline, Louie's collection may have been the only one.

Every railroad was declared a postal carrier by Congress, and the mail cars behind every locomotive were post offices just as much as those hitched to the ground. Instead of postmasters, they had ``chief clerks'' and ``clerks in charge,'' and anybody could step up to any ``RPO'' when it was stopped at a depot and buy stamps or post a letter.

Each RPO had its canceling postmark stamp. Our big RPO in Maine was the Vanceboro & Boston, western division on the crack express trains between Boston and Halifax. Every branch line connected with that one. One such was the Rum & Port - mail clerks' jargon for what was properly the Rumford & Portland Railway Post Office. In the same jargon, Kokadjo was known to every postal clerk as ``cock-eyed-Joe.''

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Consider Kokadjo. Kokadjo was never a town, but was a post office in a wilderness township far up Maine's map. The Indians called a pond nearby Kokadjewweemgwasabam, but the postal service never had any canceling stamps that big.

If you go up the east shore of Moosehead Lake from Greenville, past Lily Bay, you will come to Roach Stream and Third Roach Pond, and right away on your right is the (only) general store that used to keep the Kokadjo post office.

Kokadjo used to handle all the mail for everybody in a considerable forest wilderness, even into the Allagash waterway. Anybody coming out of the woods brought everybody's mail, and anybody going into the woods took all the mail along the way to wherever he was bound.

But Kokadjo post office was discontinued, and now all the mail comes and goes through Greenville. What could Greenville possibly mean when you mean Kokadjo? Electronic equipment to speed the mails, indeed.

Foresight suggests Friendship will also be eliminated. Modern procedures will triumph. We shall even lose the validity of 04547 as the postmaster at Portland takes over. Meantime, Phyllis keeps the faith, and if the letter says ``Friendship,'' we mean it.

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