Many of you over there who were born and raised in rural Ireland will recall meeting the local postman on his tall High Nelly of a black bicycle when you were on your way to school.
He always looked broad and burly and somehow kind (did he not?) and the big canvas bag on his back was always bulging with the mail being delivered by pedal power to all the scattered homes on his round.
It was real mail too back then. All those family letters addressed in perfect longhand script written by fountain pen, the white envelopes fat with the sheets of unlined notepaper within, heavy with the tidings and doings of the other branches of the clan all over the island and beyond in England.
And there would usually be at least one or two of the prized “American letters” that contained the priceless dollars sent back home by loved ones who had emigrated often, sadly, in a different era, never to return themselves.
And, somehow, there seemed to be always very few of the brown envelopes we now associate with bills of one kind or another or communications from the state services. And even fewer envelopes upon which the addresses were typed.
And occasionally, on what was always a busy day for the postman, dozens of little cardboard boxes containing small slices of wedding cake for neighbors and friends whom the bride and groom had been unable to cater for at their wedding. Remember those? You do of course because no cake ever afterwards in your whole life tasted as sweet as the tiny morsel that was your share of the gift.
The pedaling postmen of the country parishes and villages were as much a part of their era as horses ploughing a long field, as donkeys and carts going to the creamery, as the priest walking along the morning road reading his daily office, a lone man cutting turf with a long slean in a brown bog, a thatcher on a golden roof, a woman hanging out her bright washing on the line, a farmer hand milking a lone red cow in the field behind the house.
That is all gone now into the maw of the yesteryears, and the reason I mention the rural postmen at all is because I fear the time is coming fast when we will hardly ever see a postman at all.
Snappy little green vans now service the parishes. One of them would cover the area once served by three or four of the old bikemen.
They always seem to be in a hurry because of this, and though the modern postmen are just as gentlemanly as those who went before them, it is a fact that you rarely get a chance to talk to them at all.
Most of their deliveries nowadays are to roadside mailboxes rather than through the family front door. They leave their engines running always as they smartly deliver and then they are gone.
And, as I say, I fear their service days are numbered. This is because of a number of factors.
Whatever about your situation in the U.S., our situation is that the day of real mail is over. No more longhand letters. Usually no letters at all in the mailbox except maybe a brown bill amid a small mountain of truly junk mail fit for nothing but the back of the fire.
Desperate supermarkets trumpeting their specials, insurance companies, telephone service offers, any amount of free offers of all kinds that are not free at all.
Email and smart phones are wiping out the old postal service, not just here in Ireland but in England as well where even the Royal Mail is in tatters.
Here in the parishes of the so-called Hidden Ireland they are closing down the small post offices from which the postmen came about every week. Latest developments in Dublin suggest that in the near future our few surviving post offices will be located in big plasticated supermarkets in big towns and cities.
It is a terrible loss that is on the way because the parish postman traditionally delivered much more than mail from all over the world. He was a friend and neighbor of those he served, but he was also, in oral form over a cup of tea, what one could term the sharpest tine of the parish grapevine.
He knew who was ill. And who had died and who gave birth to twins last night in the hospital, mother and child both well, and whose bullock had died in the bog, and to whose door the sergeant had delivered a summons or two last night. He knew all the news that really mattered that morning.
When he at last retired his community invariably honored him with a presentation evening to show their appreciation and respect. He was one of them.
And some reporter like myself at the time would write in the local paper the following week that, during his many years of service to the district, Johnny pedaled up a mileage equivalent to having cycled around the world twice!
I thought of him and his era this morning when the green van stopped briefly at the mailbox before fleeting on. It left nothing behind in the mailbox but junk. It is a different era for sure.
The history behind “When Irish Eyes are Smiling”