Woodmont is not known by anyone outside of it--if you have never been there, or do not know anyone from there, you could spend hours looking at a map of Connecticut and still never lay eyes upon it. My mother grew up in Woodmont, and because my grandparents still lived in Woodmont well into my teen years, I have a fond familiarity for the little piece of beachfront property in Milford that my computer's spellcheck incessantly desires to change to "Woodman."
Growing up, my mother would take us down every weekend to visit my grandparents in Woodmont, usually spending a long afternoon having lunch, walking along the beach, or sitting on the front porch waiting for the ice cream man to drive by. During the summer, the trips were more frequent, and we sometimes went down a couple times a week. Spending all this time there is why I also know who Bill the Postman is. Those hot summer days my brother and I would sit on the stairs listening eagerly for the chime of the ice cream truck, we would often come across Bill, a big black man with a booming voice, as he delivered the mail with a hearty hello and a smile. Grandpa would always call out to him from the living room, and do his best to scramble out of his chair to the door so he could chat with him for a bit. Other times he would leave a cold soda outside around the time that Bill was expected, as this was a postman you could set your watch by.
When we returned to Woodmont this March, I thought about how much has changed since the times when I would sit on my grandparents front porch. Grandpa died 5 years ago this past December, and Grandma long ago moved out of her old house on Clinton Street, into a condo on the Boston Post Road. The old porch is no longer there--the house was sold to a developer, who tore the house down and instead constructed 2 half a million dollar homes, close together enough to be able to shake hands with your neighbor out the kitchen window. I'm in college now, about to graduate, and with time (and surgery) I look much different than when I would make the rounds in the neighborhood selling Girl Scout cookies to my Grandparents neighbors.
The party that Woodmont held for Bill was a combination of many things--a thank you for his years of service, a celebration of his retirement, and a farewell to a man that ultimately became everyone's friend throughout the years. I looked around at the people gathered. Many were young couples with children, most of them running around unattended. My Grandmother anxiously looked for familiar faces--the family that had 3 young children when she had moved out now had a daughter with braces about to enter high school, and 2 children that had long lost their baby blonde hair, but their dark brunette heads still remembered my Grandmother and greeted her "Hello Mrs. Fox!" and hugged her in that way that well raised children do. I looked at the walls and saw the banners that wished Bill well, as retirement was bringing him to South Carolina. The largest banner of them all had a giant picture of his smiling face and read big and bold across the top--"GOOD LUCK AND THANK YOU BILL--WOODMONT'S GREATEST POSTMAN EVER!" As I filled my plate with some goodies from the snack table, a little old woman with white hair and horn rimmed glasses exclaimed as she saw me and put her arms out in a hug. Though I did not recall her name, the inner recesses of my brain recognized her, and I smiled and gave her a hug.
"I'm so glad to see you, I was hoping you would be here today," she excidedly told me, as I nodded and smiled, still wondering who she was. For the next few minutes she asked me questions about what I am doing (yes I am in college, a senior, communications with a minor in studio art, interning right now at a magazine, hoping to stay in Boston, I graduate this May) and fawned over how tall I am, and how long and pretty my hair is, things that only a little old lady could say to you with out making you blush. After she said goodbye and wished me luck, my mother helped my failing memory to explain how "Lillian" was the little old lady down the street with the sun porch and the big piece of driftwood in the front yard with the flowers planted in it that I used to sell Girl Scout cookies to. Its funny how as you pass through life, you don't forget things, but certain things get filed away and you don't think about them for awhile. It was nice to travel back a bit.
Later, I went with my Grandmother to talk to Bill, not thinking he would recognize me, and I'm sure he didn't, but like any good-hearted soul talked to me and asked me questions (more of the same) and wished me luck as well. He thanked my Grandmother for all the kindnesses she and my Grandfather had shown him over the years, and held her hand as he told her how grateful he was for knowing my Grandfather, and how much he had learned from him. I felt my eyes blurr with tears as the memory of my Grandfather and the ache I still feel whenever I wish he was still around filled my heart. Grandma reassured Bill she would write him, and waved the little slip with his new South Carolina address on it in the air--when Grandma says she'll write, it means she will. Grandmas always make the best penpals.
We left after a short time, Grandma gets tired easily sometimes. Even as we were leaving, the gym was filled with people, all there because of Bill the Postman. Over 32 years he simply delivered the mail to the people of Woodmont, but he did it with a smile. My mom later told me about how Bill would often do extra things like check to make sure my Grandparents got their social security checks, and for that, they were always grateful. My Grandfather shared with him short talks and a sort of casual friendship forged by the simple act of daily contact. People in Woodmont came in droves to say goodbye to my Grandfather when he passed, and the borough of Woodmont showed that they are going to miss their postman.
There are many things people can do to be considered great in this world. They are not easy or simple or even common, and I doubt that anyone would ever say that those things included delivering the mail. It seems like today that the value of a smile is underrated, people all too often do not take that extra step, and we are all the sorrier for it. Woodmont is not known by many, and the people who live there know that the way things are within those few miles of beach are not the way things are everywhere else. I am a better person for having a connection there. I'm glad to know Woodmont. I'm glad to know Bill Porter. As I go through life, I will make sure I do my best to remember him wherever I go.