The younger of the two women got up from her chair behind a card table where she was working a jigsaw puzzle. She welcomed me as she went thru a doorway and took her position behind what could be called a teller’s cage. There were mailboxes to the right of the window and a lot of interesting gadgets behind her. The elderly frail woman was resting on a lounge by the window, reading or doing something so involving that she didn’t even look up. At her feet was a huge black and white dog that looked like an oversized firehouse Dalmatian.
I walked up to the window and said I was there to collect mail for my Aunt Madeline. She picked up a stack of letters, sorted thru it and gave me mail addressed to my Aunt. I remember thinking that was a miracle. No address but the mail knew where Aunt Madeline was. I can’t recall the exact conversation, but remember that she treated me like an adult and I could see she loved jigsaw puzzles too.
I learned that Jodi Jordan was the Postmistress and she lived there with her mom, Mrs. Terwilliger and Hamlet, their Harlequin Great Dane. Beyond the teller cage were the real living quarters including a kitchen. I never went back there. Their living room, now that I think of it, had been the waiting room when the building was used as a L.I.R.R. station. The train no longer stopped in Shinnecock Hills but its location made it convenient for the building to serve as a country post office that moved mail using stage coach-like methods.
Jody knew the train schedule. Probably wasn’t hard to remember. The mail train came from the city once a day. She would go outside, climb a few rungs of a ladder on a post and hang a leather bag on a hook. Then we would wait. When the train came by, it rattled the building and hardly slowed down. A man on the train leaned out from one side and used a hook to grab the leather pouch and simultaneously toss a satchel onto the porch. We stood to the side and watched the big event. Remember, “pre-iTimes.” This was the most excitement I had found. I became a regular at the Shinnecock Hills Post Office.
Few people came to the Post Office, since there were few people in the area. But when someone did come to collect their General Delivery Mail or fetch mail from their P.O. Box, Jodi would offer conversation along with stamps, postcards or packages. She was well read and enjoyed any additional information that visitors would offer. I remember that the people who came to the Post Office were a bit different from the city folks I knew. In retrospect, they were eclectic. They seemed to appreciate being away from the city. This was still a surprise to me.
Yes, there were things to do, like fishing and swimming and picking blueberries, but nothing seemed to beat going to the Post Office, playing with Hamlet, talking with Jodi and Mrs. Terwilliger, working on the jigsaw puzzle du jour and watching the mailbag exchange. I did this for quite a few summers while starting to appreciate coming to theHamptons. I even brought city friends to visit the Post Office.
By this time we had moved from theBronxtoQueens. Aunt Madeline sold herQueenshouse to Dad so she and Uncle Henry could move out to Shinnecock year round. At some point I became aware that the Post Office was in danger of being shut down. So I started writing letters to myself fromQueensand would collect them from General Delivery when we drove out to Shinnecock. Then I would write post cards, buy stamps and send them to friends from the Shinnecock Hills Post Office. But time changes, no matter how hard you try to pin it down.
Jodi sent me a postcard post marked Watermill,May 13, 1967with 4 cents postage. On the front was a picture of a watercolor of the Post Office in its heyday, affectionately painted by James Benson, who obviously appreciated the place as much as I did.
The Shinnecock Hills Post Office was officially closed three days later.