By: Robin Ford Wallace, Reporter
“I just throw
them out on the concrete and I run over them with my car or truck, or my
tractor, and crack that hull.”
It was Friday
at the U.S. Post Office at Rising Fawn and George Wilson was explaining to the
Sentinel how he harvests black walnuts: After the initial automotive stage, he
said, he cracks the famously hard nuts with a cracker he bought at Rising Fawn
Hardware, then sits at the kitchen table where it’s warm and picks out the meat
“for hours and hours.”
about a five-gallon bucketful,” said Wilson. “That’ll last you a couple of days
picking them out.”
shown up at the P.O. to mail some of his bounty to relatives out of state and,
incidentally, to bring postal clerk Benita Gross some popcorn balls made with
He wasn’t the
only one to bring food. Ms. Gross’s husband, Stan, brought hamburgers, and
neighbor Ronald Castleberry had shown up earlier with a case of homemade apple
butter and pepper relish. “If you run out of salsa, I’ve got some down there
from last year I’ll give you and there’s nothing wrong with it,” he said in
What’s with the
eats? Maybe it was just coincidence – Ms. Gross says Castleberry turns up about
once a week with sausage and egg biscuits or boiled peanuts – but to the
Sentinel’s sentimental eye it harked back to the old-time country tradition of
bringing food in times of trouble.
The U.S. Postal
Service is downsizing all over, even in little towns like Rising Fawn where the
post office is the heart of the community. At a public meeting the day before,
the USPS had announced that although – for now, anyway – it will keep the
Rising Fawn office open, with only slightly reduced service hours, Ms. Gross
herself must go, leaving the post office she has served since 1982.
currently the only employee at the Rising Fawn PO after Postmaster Kelly
Dobbins moved first to the Lookout Mountain, then the Trenton office, was
extremely busy and in any case unsure how much she was allowed to tell the
the press wasn’t born yesterday and had long known how much information can be
gleaned in places like Rising Fawn by leaning against the post office counter
eavesdropping shamelessly. Accordingly, the Sentinel spent part of Friday
observing Ms. Gross wait on customers, thereby not only gathering the salient
facts of this story but unraveling the mystery of the black walnut, making the
acquaintance of Dade’s long-ago sheriff, Ronald “Cubie” Steele, and, in the
interest of full disclosure, scoring a pint of Castleberry’s hot pepper relish.
going to close this post office, are they?” asked one woman, popping by to buy
“Not unless the
revenue goes down to nothing,” said Ms. Gross. “It’s just going to shorten the
window service 30 minutes.”
at Rising Fawn are 8:30 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m. Monday through Friday and
Saturday 8:30-11:30 a.m. When the new hours go into effect – probably around
February – the morning will begin at 9 a.m. instead. Saturday hours will not be
“We’ll be safe
for another year,” said Ms. Gross. “We’re at six hours but they’ll reevaluate
it in another year and they may cut it down to four and maybe two, depending on
“You got any
others?” asked the stamp lady. “You gave me Santa this morning.”
The USPS held
community meetings, including the Nov. 15 meeting in Rising Fawn, as a
culmination of its study of targeted post offices and a survey of how postal
patrons in the area preferred to implement the coming downsizing. In Rising
Fawn, of the 442 surveys filled out and returned to the service, 331 customers,
or 75 percent, said they preferred to keep the post office open with reduced
window service hours.
options were to close the PO and provide retail service through a rural
roadside carrier (nine percent of those surveyed voted for this); close the PO
and offer an alternative postal location by contracting with a local business
(two percent); or close the PO and route local postal business to a neighboring
post office (six percent).
as the numbers indicate, is that Rising Fawn is overwhelmingly against any
option that begins with “Close the PO.” On Friday, postal patrons reported the
previous day’s meeting had been emotional, with at least one attendee walking
out. When it was explained that stamps and other services were now easily
available online, they said, one woman had protested, “I ain’t getting no
computer. I don’t have one and I’m not getting one.”
She won’t have
to, at least for now, as the USPS complies with the community’s desire to leave
window service largely intact; but as for who will be serving at that window,
that is not a matter the community had any say in. USPS has posted a job
opening for an entry-level clerk for the Rising Fawn office, and Ms. Gross will
be assigned elsewhere.
“The only way I
can stay, they said, is take low pay, starting over again, and no benefits,”
said Ms. Gross. “I don’t want to do that.”
though she is currently working longer hours to fill in after Postmaster
Dobbins’ departure, is what the USPS calls a part-time flexible career clerk,
she explained. After 31 years of service, she has built up her pay through
The Rising Fawn
clerk to be hired is one who will work for a year at starting pay without
benefits or the promise of anything more permanent – even a second year –
according to the job posting. Ms. Gross herself, she told customers, can be
reassigned anywhere within a 50-mile drive –
“I hope you get
Trenton,” said one.
– but thinks it
more probable she’ll fill in at several nearby offices as full-timers take sick
time or vacation days.
Kelly Dobbins will keep an eye on Rising Fawn from 10 miles up the road. “He’s
the postmaster at Trenton, but he will be overseeing Rising Fawn and in the
near future Wildwood, when Iola retires,” said Ms. Gross.
referring to Iola Gaddis, postmistress of the Wildwood PO at the north end of
the county. Thus with regret did the Sentinel bid adieu to the Rising Fawn PO,
incidentally taking, as another postal patron had earlier, a cutting from the
stunning Christmas cactus in bloom in the lobby, and head north.
Ms. Gaddis, who has been there since 1992, confirmed she would retire in 2014,
and that until then the plan is for hours to remain exactly the same, 7
a.m.-noon and 1:45-3:45 p.m.
reason, she said, USPS did not hold a community meeting at Wildwood. “They
won’t do that until the hours change,” she said.
That may very
well happen after she retires, said Ms. Gaddis. Meanwhile, she says her post
office, like Rising Fawn’s, plays a vital role in the life of the community and
that as the postmistress she has become the go-to person for who or what is
where in Wildwood.
find the post office when they can’t find anyplace else,” she said.