Only in Rockaway

The first curiosity actually happened while I was walking a couple mornings ago.

I have been walking on our local shoulder for a lot of years, and while I have come to recognize many, many “regulars” by what they drive – and is maddening for a number of weeks when they get new cars – I have lately realized that I can also identify quite a few vehicles by the way they sound.  Of course, I can always peg a school bus or a trash truck approaching from behind, but everyone does that.  My personal vehicular auditory sense is a bit more refined.

Our postmaster, Brian, passes me several mornings a week, and we always wave cheerfully to each other.  He drives a large (four-door) white Chevy truck.  Depending on where I am in my laps, he’s either facing me or behind me when he passes, and I’d say he’s usually going about 35 mph.  So Friday morning, when I heard a pickup approaching from behind me, I just figured it was Brian running a few minutes later than usual, but I could tell that something was definitely out of the ordinary.  In fact, it sounded like he was slowing down.  Wondering why on earth that would be, I turned briefly around.  Sure enough, it was a white Chevy pick-up, but it wasn’t Brian.

And he was definitely slowing down – a lot.  I was at the middle of the bridge, and right there on the bridge, right beside me, he came to a complete stop!  That was a bit unsettling to me and none too wise for the driver.  The middle of a two-lane bridge with concrete sides is not the smartest place to stop.  I wondered if this guy was having car trouble. . . and what I could possibly do to help if he was.

There was no other traffic at that moment, and his window was down, so I approached cautiously.

Me (from a safe distance):  G’Morning.

Driver:  Hi.  I wonder if you could give me directions.

Me (relieved):  Yeah, maybe so.  Where are you headed?

Driver:  I’m looking for. . . uh. . . (referring to the ad section of a newspaper in his hand). . . Walnut Shade.

Me (throwing my arms wide and grinning proudly):  Well, sir, I am pleased to inform you that you are smack dab in the middle of downtown Walnut Shade!

And so he was.  Actually our house is probably at the midpoint of the half-mile stretch of highway between the two “Walnut Shade” signs, so technically he was a skosh east of the geographic center of town, but surely close enough that my description of his location was not inaccurate.  Of course, Walnut Shade is an unincorporated area that stretches for several miles in all directions, but it does radiate out from a point very near where the driver of the white pick-up had stopped.

Turns out he was looking for Goodnight Hollow Road, and after I got him to pull up and get off the bridge, I was able to tell him how to get there.  (Hmmm. . . Brian lives on Goodnight Hollow Road, and he’s been trying to sell a lot of stuff.  Maybe that guy was looking for Brian’s house. . . )

So that little incident made me smile – you’ve gotta love “downtown Walnut Shade!” – but it couldn’t compare to what I saw a few hours later at the post office.

Brian was off that day (which explains why he hadn’t passed me that morning), so Connie was running the show, and there were two men ahead of me when I got there.  Now, a line at the post office counter is no problem.  The Rockaway Beach post office is kind of the center of the community, where people stop in for a few minutes to take care of business, chat, and catch up on local gossip whatever’s going on in the community.  Things move slowly and with much good humor at our small-town* post office.  The man ahead of me was renting a post office box, and as he stepped out to test his keys before paying his rental fee, I told him that he had made a good choice to rent a box in Rockaway.  I told him that we have wonderful service in Rockaway and the most cheerful postal employees.  He agreed, saying he and likes joking around with Brian.  Don’t we all.

While he checked his keys, the next man bought two stamps.  Slapping two letters and a dollar bill on the counter, he said, in typical Rockaway vernacular, “Gimme a couple’a stickers, Connie.”  Meanwhile, I looked out the window and waited patiently with my outgoing package of books.  I am beginning to sell off some of the homeschool stuff that we’re done with.  Don’t worry; I’m only converting back to cash the books we will never use and/or didn’t like.  And as I stood there, a man walked down the sidewalk toward the post office with a large, white bird on his shoulder.

I was so stunned that I blurted out to the man seeking the “stickers,” “Well, look at that!  There’s a bird on that man’s shoulder!”

He looked and said nothing, and Connie was too busy waiting on him to look up, but I was truly intrigued.  The bird looked a lot like this:

White bird - Cockatoo?

White bird – Cockatoo?

And he was of a good size.  I’d say nearly a foot tall, not counting his tail.  And he was perfectly perched on the man’s right shoulder, just sitting there looking birdishly noble as the man walked along.  Wow!

About that time, the sticker seeker went departed, passing the key tester as he came back in, and still amazed at and totally intrigued by the bird on the pedestrian’s shoulder, I pointed out the window and said to the gentleman renting the PO box, “That man has a big white bird on his shoulder!”  He noted the bird.  Connie also noted the bird and said, “I’m going to have to email Brian and tell him about that.  Only in Rockaway!”

“Yes,” I agreed.  “You could go to any of several thousand post offices anywhere in the U.S. this morning, and at any one of them you could buy some stamps, rent a PO box, or mail a package, but you’d only see a big white bird on a man’s shoulder at the Rockaway Beach post office!”  And just as I said that, the man walked into the post office lobby, collected his mail out of his box, and walked back down the sidewalk the way he’d come, all the while with the bird still perched on his shoulder.

I’m telling you, there’s never a dull day in Walnut Shade or Rockaway Beach!

* Rockaway is a small town, but I wasn’t sure how small, so I googled it.  In 2010, the city of Rockaway Beach, with an area of .69 square miles, had a population of 841.  By comparison, the unincorporated area of Walnut Shade, with an area of 40 square miles (and mental math whizzes will note that that makes Walnut Shade approximately 58 times larger – in area – than Rockaway Beach), had a population of 896.  However, we question the reliability of that figure, because two of the several  websites that gave the population of W.S. as 896 also said, “There is no 2010 Census Data available for WALNUT SHADE, MO.”  Hmm. . . In any case, in my book there is data available, and in my book Rockaway Beach qualifies as a small town with a great post office, and Walnut Shade qualifies both as a wonderful unincorporated rural area and as my home.

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