|A pastoral scene of cars, trucks and cattle stops us along U.S. 85. (Photos by Bonnie J. Schupp)|
In the tiniest of towns,
we meet the Postmaster
REDIG, South Dakota – The sparkle of sunshine reflecting off some of maybe 150 cars and trucks out beyond the cow pasture catches my eye along U.S. 85, a dot of a place about three inches below the Dakotas’ border on our Triple-A map. The vehicles outnumber the grazing black cattle.
|Redig Post Office|
We stopped for a moment, then turned around on the two-lane ribbon where
|... and its postmaster, Edgar Kumley|
At the counter stands Edgar Kumley, folksy postmaster and proprietor of the pastoral salvage yard, farmer and native – and likely longest-term resident -- of Redig, whose population he puts at “ten today, maybe five tomorrow, one next week.”
“How long have you been postmaster?” I ask.
“More than 70 years,” he replies.
“But you don’t look a day over 72,” I lie.
He chuckles. He’ll be 95, come October.
There’s a computer hard drive atop a row of old dry-goods drawers, and Bonnie asks if that’s his computer. “No,” he says. “My granddaughter’s.” He says her computer equipment is all over the place.
And that raises another question, about what kind of impact an old man like Edgar Kumley makes in a wider world. Numbers help define it: Ten children that he and his wife put through college, and 35 grandchildren.
“How many great-grandchildren are there?”
“I’ve got no idea.”
The children and grandchildren and beyond are spread out across the nation, among them at least one doctor and lawyer... and probably more.
People from a wide area around Redig pick up their mail at the post office, where slots for each resident are filled with letters, magazines and, more than likely, junk advertising. But the postmaster says he gets little mail himself.
There’s a lot in the outside world that bothers him, starting with the U.S. Postal Service itself – that since its conversion to an independent agency back in the Nixon administration, it is not managed by the U.S. government. “I voted for Richard Nixon,” he says, blaming him for giving away the postal service. “He was a thief.” And no matter how the independent agency views it, he says, “the people own this post office, the people paid for it.”
Edgar is a Republican, but not bound up by party lines in his thinking. “That man in the White House,” he says, as I begin to hold my breath, “is the smartest and most cautious we’ve ever had.”
And in the slow-moving world of a 94-year-old postmaster, that’s excellent. He says Barack Obama is not jumping into war with Russia. Conflict like that, he fears, could ultimately go nuclear and that just three bombs could end the world as we know it.
A fan whirrs near a cracked window. There’s no air-conditioning. Afternoon temperatures outside are well into the humid 80s, and he wears a long-sleeve plaid shirt despite the heat. He slips on a pair of dark-lens glasses to ease the strain of bright light, just a few weeks after eye surgery. He’d badly injured an eye decades ago when a belt snapped as he and a son were working on a car, but surgery repaired it. Much more recently, he said, something flew out of a mailbag and damaged the eye again and now he was recovering from another repair job.
A postal patron walks in to pick up mail and exchange pleasantries. And it’s time for us to go. I reach out to shake Edgar’s hand. His fingers are thick, his hand rough, his grip stronger than a 72-year-old’s.