Monday, May 28, 2012

Post Office or House of the Rising Sun?


There is a house on Seventh Street, I call my boyhood home. It’s been the ruin of many a poor soul, and God, I know I’m one.
With apologies to the Animals, Bob Dylan, Dolly Parton, Glenn Yarbrough, Pete Seeger, Roy Acuff and a slew of others, the following is my story – and I am sticking to it.
“House of the Rising Sun Blues,” surfaced in the 1930s in Appalachia. Clarence “Tom” Ashley and Gwen Foster recorded it as early as 1934, according to Smithsonian Folkways. And Alan Lomax, a curator of the Archive of American Folk Song for the Library of Congress, recorded a version of it in Middesborough, Kentucky, my mom’s hometown, in 1937. Lomax reportedly set up recording equipment in mining activist and folk singer Tilman Cadle’s home and ‘miked’ a performance by Georgia Turner, the then, 16-year-old daughter of a local miner.
As the story goes, the “House of the Rising Sun,” is perhaps a euphemism for a brothel, or a jail house, or a dance hall.  Not everyone can agree on its meaning, or if it existed at all.
I personally wonder if it was the Post Office?
When I was about 11-years-old, my friend and neighbor on one of the other corners of Seventh Street and Hillside, Lynn Leavell, and I, acquired a paper route, delivering the “The Durango Herald.” He had the upriver homes. I had down river, determined of course, by the location of the Post Office on Sixth Street.
Every afternoon as we waited until 4:10 - 4:20 p.m. (it was not always on time) to pick up  papers at the PO, we would pass the time reading the wanted posters on clip boards at the tall grey counter against the wall on one side of the office.
Folks from all over town would saunter in, spin the dials on their combination, ornate, brass mail boxes and pick up their bills, and maybe receive a check here and there -- along with the subscription to Readers Digest and National Geographic.
Bill Bowden, the Postmaster at the time, took care of us, dropping the newsprint-covered, string tied bundles out with a plop near the side door first, before putting up the rest of the mail.
The postal system was different in those days, at least in our little town. Bill’s daughter, Betty Bowden Kitlica, of course remembers it fondly.
“There will never be another Postmaster like my Dad. He took pride in his job, loved the people he served. I will always see him, shirt sleeves rolled up just below his elbows, leaning on the counter. There wasn't a kid that came in that he didn't take the time to talk to --you experienced that first hand. He would do almost anything for anybody. We were in Fort Collins for Virgil's graduation when he got the call that Charlie Rash had passed away. He left right after the ceremony to come back to Dolores to handle things at the post office. That was the end of family vacations because my Mother was the third employee, so if one was gone the other one had to be there.”
The town itself was a bit different then too, I guess.
“The Post Office was sort of the central meeting place; everyone had to come in to get the mail. Dad always took the time to talk. There wasn't anyone who didn't know him and I always assumed that everyone liked him. The office, even though still in a small town, didn't have the same feeling after Dad retired. There was no more sending mail addressed to Grandma and Grandpa 80231. How many people can send a letter addressed to the old one legged blacksmith, Dolores, CO and knows that it will be delivered to the correct person? My Dad was a people person, so of course this was a perfect job for him. Small offices were always more personal than the big city, but I think Dolores was unique because of the man in charge, he made it that way. I know he went beyond what was expected of him, he served his community. Today’s post offices are just a place of business, the managers, as they are called, set in their offices and do whatever it is that they do now. The modern technology has changed a lot of things, it has depersonalized everything. You write something like "pictures, do not bend," or "please hand cancel" and nobody notices it, because it all goes through some big machine.”
Personally, I have no attachment to any other Post Office in Dolores, as I only remember the one on Sixth Street.
“I think Dad only worked in the old post office on 4th street and the new one on 6th, those are the only two that I remember. He was so proud of the new building, it was his baby. He helped design it and took great pride in it. The foreman of the building crew was from Texas, just like my Dad was so they got along great. They had a little boy that I got to babysit. His wife was from Tennessee, and her prom date was a boy by the name of Elvis, loved hearing that story. After I moved away from Dolores, I would run into someone who lived there and I would tell them who my Dad was and they always knew him. I had reason to talk to one of the post masters in Denver and remembered dad from one of the post master conventions. I loved that, it was like having a celebrity for a father. It is sad to go back there and not be able to find someone who knew him.”
Bill was born and raised in a small town, Dublin, Texas, according to his daughter.
“His Dad ran a general store, so he learned how to deal with the public at an early age. He dropped out of school in the 10th grade to go to work to help support the family. That took him to the CCC and eventually to McPhee. Ninety percent of what he made went back home to his family. He met my Mom and got married, started a family then went into the Army during WWII. When he got out he worked as a cook, I think, at the Idle Hour. Maybe more than one. He took the civil service test, passed it and started working at the post office in the early ‘50s, I think- may have been late ‘40s.”
But time marches on, relentlessly.
“When he became a Grandfather, we would always stop by on our way out of town to have the babies weighted on the scale and he would always stamp the bottom of their feet or there hand with a return to sender stamp. That is the one memory that will make me cry every time,” says Kitlica.
“And no, I don't use the post office much now days. I gave up writing letters, don't send cards, get my bills and pay them on line.”
For years, the Bowden family lived in the same house I grew up in, on Seventh Street.
Oh mother, tell your children, not to do what I have done. Spend your lives inside the office, looking at posters in the house of the rising sun.
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