A post office where everybody knows your name

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The Perryman post office doesn't deliver. And Perryman residents think that's fine.

What the residents of the 21130 ZIP code, and some outside it, give up in home-delivered convenience they gain in down-home charm.

"We have a real unique post office. You're all on a first-name basis," said postal clerk Wanda Horne of Perryman in Harford County.

Every weekday morning for 12 years, Mrs. Horne has arrived at the tiny, white frame house at the end of Michaelsville Road at 7 to meet the mail. One and a half hours later, she and Postmaster Linda McDeshen have sorted letters, bills and advertisements into the more than 200 rented boxes.

The post office is one of three in Harford County designated as rural by the U.S. Postal Service. Situated in the urban Aberdeen delivery area, the Perryman post office, front porch and all, could fit into the lobby of the Aberdeen post office.

Rural post offices such as Perryman's and one in Benson, which is also in a more urban delivery area, have survived because communities want their own post offices nearby. "They want to retain that; it's part of their history," said Patricia Mank, a Postal Service customer relations coordinator.

At the Perryman post office, "rush hour" begins at 8:30 a.m. "You can almost sometimes set your watch" by the times regular customers arrive to check their boxes each day, Mrs. Horne said.

Some take only a few seconds to open their boxes in a lobby where three is a crowd, but almost everyone chats with Mrs. McDeshen and Mrs. Horne.

"Wanda, how's Junior doing?" Patricia Moxham called to Mrs. Horne. "Real good," Mrs. Horne replied from the back room. Mrs. Horne's husband, Junior, had been ill.

Mrs. McDeshen has a hug for Mary E. Ashford, 71, who walked over from her home on Maple Avenue.

Robert Cook, 39, stopped in to empty his mailbox on his way to work as a car dealer. "It's nice to have a small community atmosphere still around. It's just so unusual in today's society," he said.

The post office offers more than mailboxes and kind words.

Mrs. McDeshen passes out food and clothing donated by some of the box holders to needy residents when they come in. "We just try to do for our customers like we would want them to do for us," Mrs. McDeshen said.

And customers return the favor.

William Rothwell Sr., 75, a landscaper at Harford Memorial Hospital, planted grass on the small plot in front of the porch. In the summer, some customers give home-grown vegetables to Mrs. McDeshen and Mrs. Horne.

The sense of community attracts businesses along with residents.

The Clorox Co. has rented a Perryman post office box since officials started planning the manufacturing and distribution center on Perryman Road five years ago. "It helps us maintain ties with the local community," said James Martin, engineering manager and president-elect of the Harford County Chamber of Commerce.

Mr. Martin of Forest Hill checks the box he and his wife rent in Perryman at the same time he picks up Clorox's mail. The 8:30 a.m. "up time" is a draw for Clorox, whose other mail isn't delivered to its building until 1 p.m., Mr. Martin said.

Although some Perryman residents ask that their mail be delivered to their homes through the Aberdeen post office, going to check rented boxes is a decades-old routine for many residents.

Pictures of about 40 customers who have rented boxes for 20 years or more adorn a glass case on the wall of the lobby.

Isiah Kenly, 75, and Howard Dorsey, 71, share a photo and come in together most mornings to check their boxes.

Marianna Murray, 68, and her dog, Mitzie, walk to the post office most mornings between 9 and 10. A homemaker who moved to Perryman nine years ago, Ms. Murray said she has no desire to have her mail delivered.

"I'd rather have it here," she said. "It's more friendly. You act like you're coming up to meet your family every morning."

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