Well into her '80s, my mother (now 91) had a tried-and-true safety mechanism when she needed (or so she thought) to get up on a ladder around her house. She would wait until it was almost time for the mailman to arrive, figuring if she fell and couldn't get up, she could yell for him.
Not too many people visit at the house anymore. Her two best friends -- sisters who never married -- died within two weeks of each other in December. She had to give up driving last month under pressure from her dastardly children, and she rebels against the very idea of Meals On Wheels. The one constant daily (almost) presence in her life is the letter carrier, who -- it turns out -- is the son of my high school English teacher. When last we chatted (a couple of years ago), it was clear he knew everybody in the city, and certainly the habits and needs of the people who lived on his route, my mother included.
"I keep an eye out for her," he said.
It probably makes good economic sense that the U.S. Postal Service today is announcing it wants to get rid of Saturday mail delivery. Maybe it's a bluff to Congress. Maybe it's not. And while we probably can do without a day of credit-card solicitation letters, it certainly signifies a loss to our culture. In cities and towns across America, the letter carrier watches out for the old, widowed ladies.
It's not their job, of course. It's just their legacy.