No, not that Postal Service although their original Such Great Heights (covered by Iron & Wine) is on my short list of all time favorite. I mean the USPS, so much in the news these day of summer 2020.
My paternal grandmother factors into my life off and on until her dying day. She and my grandfather care for me in that I actually live with them as a young child for months on end at the Methodist parsonage in Farmville, Virginia where my grandfather, Other Dad, is minister. We have a grand time. At Easter Mother Leigh organizes a massive egg hunt in the sloped side yard rife with tree leaves for me and the neighboring children. I love it, but never find the golden egg. I voice that I am entitled, it’s my egg hunt. She smiles and shakes her head, no. She teaches me life lessons that stay with me to this day.
Years later her antebellum home in Richmond is where Donny & I have our wedding reception. And a few years after that, I find myself cooking weekly meals for her and, with young Emily in tow, drive them across town to her when I fear that she is beginning to neglect eating.
She tries to give me her engagement diamond when she knows that she is in her twilight but I tell her I will get it later. I don’t want her to go. I am her namesake. We are Leighs. She is my anchor.
I also live with Mother Leigh my first year at Richmond Professional Institute (my second year in college) in downtown Richmond until a room that I approve of becomes available. I turn down at least one. It’s not good enough for me to leave the room I share with my young cousin Peyton in The Big House on Three Chopt Road.
There is a traditional blue postal dropbox almost directly across residential but extremely busy Three Chopt Road from 6416, or as we call it The Big House. So named to distinguish it from The Little House which is situated directly behind The Big House. A double car garage in its first life it is where I live with my parents until Dad reenlists and we become an Air Force family. The mailbox is specifically at the point Old Mill Road, a lovely steep shade tree lined one block street that intersects Three Chopt Road just south of The Big House. My grandmother uses it religiously. Her mail is delivered to The Big House through the brass front door drop slot and I am sure that she has a means to leave outgoing mail for the postman but throughout the day, everyday, Mother Leigh will post a paid bill, a letter to a friend, a query. It will not do to save up the lot for the postman. It needs to be posted upon completion. And so each goes into the blue dropbox.
Then one day just like that the dropbox is gone. Mother Leigh is horrified. She calls the post office and is told the volume at that location is too low to keep the dropbox in service. She is livid. She explains that she uses it everyday, several times a day. She is brushed off. Her adult children tell her to forget it, that it’s a closed matter.
She is not to be denied. She begins a phone campaign. A letter writing campaign. She calls in all of her favors to anyone that can sway the vote. Judge Powell lives across the street. A retired Episcopal bishop lives in the house at the mailbox corner. Visualize huge trees, privacy shrubs, semi circle driveways with generous homes between all and you can get a sense of the neighborhood. She reaches out to each and every neighbor. Mary Anne & Edmund Rennolds, founders of The Richmond Symphony, live next door. My grandmother will even buttonhole the neighbor on the other side, who is below my grandmother’s standards. Whatever it takes to get her mailbox back. She wins. The blue box is returned.
You do not mess with a Leigh.
That neighbor on the other side of 6416, Mrs McLester, gets on my grandmother’s wrong side shortly after she and my grandfather move permanently into The Big House. Mrs McLester asks my grandmother why she and my grandfather do not sleep in the master bedroom (Mother Leigh plans it as a dorm type room for we grands when the families arrive for holidays). The master bedroom windows faces Mrs McLester’s world and she notes the lack of lights and activity at night. Mother Leigh draws herself up and declares it none of her business.
One afternoon a few years later we kids have been sent out to rake pine tags in the huge side yard situated between The Big House and the Rennolds house. The yard is full of tall pines and beyond it a beautifully defined formal garden to be entered through a wooden arch that is full of rambling roses in season. We quickly get tired of plain raking and decide to make ‘houses’ using pine tag ‘walls’ to define rooms as well as make beds and chairs. We each have our own house and quickly run out of tags for all of our decorating.
Then I get the bright idea to ask Mrs McLester if we can have some from her front yard which is similarly graced with tall pines. My cousins are skeptical. Mrs McLester is off limits. I am not to be deterred. I march up to the front door and knock. Mrs McLester answers. I take a breath, introduce myself and explain our mission. She looks me over. I muse to myself that my grandmother’s character analysis is not off base, here stands a hard woman. I do my best to portray an air of positive expectancy. I should not have worried. Kids raking her yard for free and Mrs. Jett’s grandchildren at that? Still she hesitates. Greed wins, Mrs McLester gives a reluctant nod of approval and much instruction about where to rake and what to leave alone. When we later explain to the adults our clever solution when we run out of pine tags for our project, all they can do is laugh.
B&W Photo credit to John Wesley Perkinson (except the Easter egg hunt)