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Shandon post office is more than just mail

jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Josie Pascual, with her fluffy, brown-eyed Pomeranian in tow, walked out of the Shandon post office on a recent spring afternoon and was immediately met with a warm hello and friendly hug from fellow resident Trish Portney.

“How nice to see you!” Portney gushed as Pascual beamed and rustled the hair of Dominic Hernandez, Portney’s 1-year-old grandson, as he giggled in a stroller.

The scene was just a slice of small-town life in rural Shandon, where the post office on Centre Street remains one of a few social hubs.

With only one postal route through town, most residents must go to the quaint two-room structure with the painted, wood-carved sign to pick up their daily mail from its 440 rented P.O. boxes. The bond between residents is apparent as morning greetings turn into hot gossip, then conversations that trickle into the afternoon.

“I get to know everybody,” acting Postmaster Rosario “Betty” Cano, 29, said in between ringing up stamps and taking letters behind her small window counter with a roll-up door.

“Maybe boxing the mail isn’t so exciting, but it’s part of it.”

A United States Postal Service proposal could change all that. If approved, the proposed rules would allow some post offices to be managed by a regional postmaster, not one per office as rules allow now. A postal service spokesman wouldn’t speculate on whether certain post offices nationwide could close or how operations could be affected.

Cano, a Shandon resident since age 3, has worked at the post office for the past seven years. When the last postmaster retired three years ago, Cano took over the duties. Residents love her — often saying Cano goes to all lengths to help them out.

“She’s friendly, and she speaks to everyone,” Rosanne Rantz, 69, said. “You can ask her anything, and if she doesn’t know, she’ll find out.”

Cano sees small gestures of kindness as just part of the job.

“I’ll call them if I see a package they’ve been waiting for. I know they’ll be excited,” she said.

But she’s also keen on the rules. When youngsters rush in when school report cards arrive in the mail, Cano tells them they have to get the P.O. box key from their parents.

“They say, ‘Please, Betty. Can we check?’ ” I tell them ‘No. You have to get the key first,’ ” Cano said with a smile.

As she spoke, the sound of mail keys turning in little metal locks and doors shutting filled the background.

“No news is good news,” said resident Devon Radke, 46, as she locked her box and left smiling and empty handed.

Apolonio Oregon, 53, held the door open as Radke walked out. Oregon, a new phone book and a crisp white envelope in hand, chatted about the church’s food drive with Radke on the sidewalk.

“I like that I know everybody. I like all the things I didn’t like when I lived in a small town when I was young,” said Radke, who later invited a cluster of people to her upcoming wedding at the white wooden church across the street.

Nearby, three women sat together on a well-used wooden bench in between the post office and one of the only two shops in town.

Their discussion was animated — elaborate hand motions and wide eyes as the conversation drifted from a new home purchase to a catering job to the upcoming fire season.

“May May didn’t stop by. She must have a doctor’s appointment,” noted resident Kate Twisselman, 51, after describing how, if you stay at the post office long enough, you’ll see everyone in town.

To comment on the proposal

May 2 is the deadline to comment on proposed organizational changes to the U.S. Postal Service. Written comments can be mailed or delivered to the Department of Customer Service Standardization, attention: Retail Discontinuance, 475 L’Enfant Plaza SW., Room 6816, Washington, D.C., 20260-6816. Those with questions can call Annette Raney at 202-268-4307, according to the Federal Register’s website, www.federalregister.gov. The proposal’s consideration date has not yet been disclosed.

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