Main Street Clarksville

The Guthrie Post Office – Zipcode 42234

In a meeting with my colleagues on the Robertson County Scholarship Foundation, our board chairman, Kelvin Penuel, mentioned the need to pick up the last of our scholarship applications at the Springfield Post Office. 

As Kelvin spoke, I thought of the friendly confines of Guthrie’s post office when I was a boy.  In 1960s Guthrie, the post office was one of the main hubs of intense daily activity in our small South Todd railroad whistle stop. It was understood that by 10 a.m. sharp, Monday through Saturday, the mail would be sorted and slotted for residential and commercial pickup. Slowly but surely, cars would fill the parking lot as Guthrie’s citizens congregated to get their mail. The Guthrie Post Office was, and still is, located on Cherry Street at the corner of Park Street, facing Guthrie’s branch of Elkton Bank and Trust. The parking spots in front of the building always filled up first and fast. Overflow parking found its way to the front of the Guthrie Baptist Church Annex that was located next door. The bravest and most adventurous would park in the one-way access street between the post office and the annex. 

Mother would load up my two sisters and me in the family car and head to town for our daily postal pickup. Mom was still perfecting her driving skills, so she would park on the shoulder of Park Street. She parked on the side of the post office to avoid the traffic. 

Steve Haley

After slipping into a spot, she would send me in to get our mail. She made sure I had our box number, 191, memorized. It was close to the top row, and I was much too short to reach the box.  Even if I could have reached it, I didn’t know the combination to open it. Mother always reminded me to stop and look through the dark glass located at the bottom of the box. If I saw the mail, I was to proceed into the office. I would need professional assistance to get the Haley family’s correspondence. 

Upon entering the building I would reach up over my head with my right hand and grab the black metal handrail to steady myself as I climbed the tiled concrete steps into the foyer.  The Guthrie Post Office was so clean and pristine it almost seemed to sparkle. The room would brighten up as the sunlight shined through the glass doorway. It was a modern structure constructed of cinder blocks and tile. It was unlike the brick-and-mortar buildings with wooden floors of downtown Metro Guthrie.

On the left foyer wall facing Cherry Street was a bulletin board with a glass cover. Here on display for all to see were the United States and Commonwealth of Kentucky pronouncements and proclamations. These were of little interest to an extraordinarily ordinary elementary schooler, except for the mug shots of the Top Ten Most Wanted criminals in America as ranked by the FBI. 

These gentlemen’s – I use the term “gentlemen” loosely – photographs were so menacing, I was afraid to do anything more than glance at them. I could see the meanness in their eyes. I believed they were the worst of people. They were the kind of individuals that might make a little boy mow the yard TWICE in one week with a 20-inch push mower instead of the standard once a week. I wanted nothing to do with these marauders.  

I passed through the glass door in the glass wall that separated the office from the foyer, and immediately got in the back of the line. There always seemed to be a line, especially on the first 10 days of the month.

As I patiently waited, I slowly melted as the coolness of the air conditioner enveloped me. None of my family or friends of my family had such a luxury as an air conditioner. I was always aware of the mixture of ladies’ perfume in the air. I particularly liked it when one of them wore Avon’s ‘Bird of Paradise.’ My mind was constantly taking mental snapshots of the sights, sounds and smells of our small town. Little did I know that I was filing these memories away so that someday I could write about them. 

There was a large window in the office. It had Venetian blinds to guide the bursts of sunlight that came into the room. In front of the window was a tall table that was over my head. It was here where my lifelong friends and I filled out the forms to apply for Social Security cards as we prepared to enter the workforce. It was also the very spot where some brave souls of Guthrie who preceded us completed their selective service forms for the military draft. It would be years later, after I matured physically and mentally, that I fully understood their selfless service and sacrifice. 

Above the door that allowed entrance to the office behind the counter, was a clock exactly like the one in Mrs. Lucy F. Chastian’s first-grade classroom at Guthrie Elementary. It was oval with a black case and large black numbers. The hands on the clock were long and slow-moving. The second hand was red and moved constantly. It was the most generic-looking clock I had ever seen. I wondered if all government buildings used the same timekeeping mechanisms. 

Behind the counter was our Postmaster, Mrs. Dolly Norris, and her able assistant, Mrs. Jean Malone. Mrs. Norris and Mrs. Malone were more than postal clerks. The ladies were money changers, as well as mail handlers. For patrons who didn’t have a bank account, the post office was the venue to pay their accounts. They would open the letterboxes and take out their obligations. Next, they would go into the office and give the debits and cash to Mrs. Norris or Mrs. Malone. The ladies would then print off a money order, fill out the information, address and stamp the envelope, and drop it in the bin for delivery. They were in constant motion as they handled these clerical chores. Ink pens were carefully tucked behind the ladies’ ears as tape dispensers spun and staplers rattled. The cash register rang to fill all needed community transactions. 

When my time came at the counter, I stepped up timidly. My mother’s training hadn’t included what to say about the family’s mail. Thankfully, not only were the ladies tremendous mail handlers, they were mind readers, too. As I stepped up to the counter they would say, “Stevie, do you need your family’s mail?” Somehow I was able to meekly reply, “Yes, ma’am.” Sometimes I would run back to the mailbox and watch through the box window as the mail wiggled from side to side then disappeared. I would quickly rush back and assume my spot at the head of the line and politely thank them for helping me.  

Over time I grew in stature and could finally reach the mailbox. Mother felt it was time to show me the mailbox combination and bypass the office wait. Our mail drop had an eight-pointed star with the letters A through H, instead of numbers, to trip the tumblers on the lock. The pointer had to stop exactly on the right letters or it wouldn’t unlock.  

One Saturday morning, Kenny Westerman and I rode our bikes into town. After we surveyed all the happenings, I told him I needed to head home. First, I had to check the mail for my mother. He watched me painstakingly go through the combination. Then he started laughing at me. I asked what was so funny. His reply was, “You and that box. This is how you open a mailbox.” He went to the Westerman’s family and business postal box. With a HUGE smile on his face, he blew on his fingers like an experienced safecracker and polished his knuckles on his tee-shirt. He reached down and spun the pointer to the right like a roulette wheel. When it stopped, he spun it to the left. When it stopped spinning he repeated the process to the right again. I kept saying over and over, “There is no way that will work.” He then reached over, turned the trip, and the door magically opened.  

Sometime later I was alone in the post office. After getting our mail, I headed for the door and my bike as my eye caught the Westermans’ box. I thought to myself, “I wonder……” I repeated Kenny’s steps, and I even cracked my knuckles for good measure before I started. I spun the arrow right, then left, then right again. I reached for the trip and the door popped open. I quickly slammed it shut. As I turned for the door, I saw the mug shots of The Ten Most Wanted by the FBI. Above their faces was a sign that said, “Tampering with the U.S. Mail and its property is a felony offense punishable by imprisonment.” Oh my goodness, would I now be one of The Top Ten Most Wanted? Would the FBI be waiting for me when I got home? How soon before I was arrested? Should I head to the Tennessee state line and prepare to go into hiding, living off the land like my hero, mountain man Jim Bridger? I decided to go home to wait and face my fate like a good little boy. I practiced my frown all the way home for my mug shot, just in case.

Steve Haley spent his childhood in Guthrie, Ky. during the 1960s and 1970s. He loves to recount the stories of his extraordinary ordinary upbringing in a small Southern town with his many friends. If you have any comments or suggestions you can email him at Setsof4Haley@ATT.Net or call/text him at 615.483.2573.