The day after the first Monday of this month, I kept seeing a head of silver hair flash by the border of my home office windows. One time I saw him drop a package on the front porch, hurry down the stairs, race across the front walkway and into his mail truck. Another time, he was near the front gate, slightly bent as he placed letters into the mailbox. A few times I caught him as he turned to shut the gate and hop back into his truck.
Gil Greenwald was our mailman for nearly 20 years—from the time we moved to Fort Bragg in 1992 until he retired a couple of years ago. After his retirement, we discovered we were merely two of dozens of people on his route who appreciated his small acts of kindness, quick wit and love of dogs; all of which added up over the years to colossal bundle of generosity.
A low grumbling permeated the neighborhood as we tried, but failed, to accept the replacement mailman—a man from the city who declined to take my canned goods on postal worker Food Bank collection day because they were placed in a container on top of the mailbox instead of inside. (Gil would have taken the cans.)
When Gil was on the job, our dogs went insane with barking at the sound of his truck a block away. He always had biscuits for them. It was embarrassing to see them act like frenzied starving hounds. I’d sometimes scold, telling him to make them be quiet and sit before giving the treat. He’d shrug his shoulders and chuckle.
Each Christmas we’d give him a bottle of wine and a bag of dog biscuits.
Other people on his route had similar experiences with Gil and their dogs. The Larsons had a dog that would jump the fence and accompany Gil for a few blocks along his route. When Naomi was out for a walk with her dog, Gil would pull over in his mail truck to offer a biscuit.
Susanne and Richard once had a small green frog living in their mailbox. Before inserting the mail, Gil would check for the frog. If it was there, he would carefully place the mail so as not to disturb it.
In the memories of young people—including our children—Gil was synonymous with the term mailman; he was the only mailman they ever knew.
Gil would often take a break from his route and chat with my husband Gary about their shared love of music, most particularly fifties rock and roll.
When Kate and Lars took a year-long sabbatical in Costa Rica, Gil mailed care packages that included tales of the neighborhood and a copy of the high school newspaper.
One of the little things I miss about Gil involves the ad-rag weekly that is thrown on our sidewalk each Tuesday. Until he retired, I took for granted that he picked it up and placed it in our box along with the mail. This was another of his small acts of kindness that grew into something much more.
On the first Monday of this month, Gil passed away.
Our neighborhood grieves from the sorrow of a collective broken heart.
I hope his family and close friends find solace in knowing that those along his route adored him and will fondly remember the myriad of little things he did that left us grateful for having known him.
The day after that first Monday of this month, he knocked on the door and handed me a package. His bright smile caused me to smile in return.
“Where are the dogs?” he asked.
“They’re being timed out in the kitchen.”
“Oy vey.” He held out two biscuits. “This should make them feel better.”
“You spoil them.”
A spark from his smile lit up his eyes. He turned and ran to his truck.