Miss Hazel will be 76 this year. She has lived in or within 15 miles of Brownsville, Tennessee, all her life. When she turned 40 in 1969, she bought a brand new ranch-style house on a corner lot of a tiny subdivision on the outskirts of town. And she’s lived there ever since.
She commuted between Memphis and Brownsville several times in her life, but most importantly when she completed her Master’s degree in Education at age 45. She taught in the City of Brownsville and Shelby County schools the rest of her working life.
Even though the town of Brownsville is relatively small, with a population of around 10,000 people, it sure feels smaller to Miss Hazel. She either knows everyone or knows of everyone. And everyone knows her. I think it’s because of all those years teaching. She knew kids who grew into parents whose kids grew into parents.
For all those years of service to her community, Miss Hazel gets a few welcome perks. For example, since grocery shopping can add up to a long walk for someone in their seventies, management suggested that she park in the handicapped parking space at the E.W. James Supermarket until somebody in town had an unfortunate accident last winter and actually needed the space. But not long after, the store employees put up a big sign in front of the space next to it saying, “Preferred Customer Parking”, and designated it as Miss Hazel’s new spot.
The word spread pretty quickly among the store’s customers (the “new” Wal-Mart that came in 1995 took most of the business, so there weren’t as many people to notify). It wasn’t long before everyone just knew. They knew that Miss Hazel goes shopping every Thursday morning, without fail, (if she needs anything mid-week, she calls the store manager who just delivers what she needs on his way home) before going to get her hair done.
People use the spot on other days, but it is always vacant on Thursday mornings. I don’t know if Miss Hazel knows that other people use it the rest of the week. But if she did, she certainly wouldn’t mind.
She’d say, “Oh, that’s just grand, dahhlin’. I wouldn’t like to know that I’m the only preferred customer in town.”
Another perk that Miss Hazel didn’t even know about until recently, is that that she has had the luxury of choosing between two mailmen all these years. A walking city postal carrier delivers mail for her neighborhood and a rural driving postal carrier delivers mail for the county. Because she chose, when she moved in, to put her mailbox at the end of the driveway (it seemed like less trouble for the mailman at the time) that exits to a major highway, her mail has always been delivered by the rural carrier.
But one day recently, she decided it sure would be a blessing to have a nice new mailbox at her front door. It was getting harder each year to walk down the back steps to the mailbox at the end of the driveway. If it were at her front door, she wouldn’t even have to maneuver steps or, for that matter, even step outside. And that mailbox at the end of the drive was barely standing anymore anyway.
So she paid her “man” (the man who has served as her faithful handyman for years – he is a few years older than she is now) to buy a new mailbox, put it up and remove the old one.
She had discussed what she was doing with both mailmen and they all agreed that the walking carrier would just drop her mail in her new box just as he had done for her neighbors since his first day on the job.
It seemed easy…sensible….efficient.
Until she heard a knock on her door. Both mailmen proceeded to tell her that their bosses weren’t allowing the change. They had tried and tried, telling them again and again that it was fine with them, but they had profusely said “no”, as if they had been asked a question. It seemed that there were numerous city and rural post office regulations involving walking vs. driving, pay scales and unions.
Miss Hazel got contact information and started what would turn out to be an intense 48-hour ordeal. During this time, the rural carrier continued to deliver her mail, but because the mailbox was torn down, he had to park his truck and walk to Miss Hazel’s porch and “illegally” drop it in the mailbox at her front door. He didn’t like doing this, because he knew he could get into trouble.
“Listen, dahhhlin, if ANYONE finds out about this and gives you any trouble, you just tell them to come see me, Hazel Simmons.”
She started with phone calls to their bosses. She patiently explained the circumstances to each, but neither gave her the correct answer. Next, she called the postmasters of the county and the city offices who told her they couldn’t make the change she requested. She called the USPS Consumer Affairs office in Memphis and stayed on “hold” until she eventually got the Vice President’s voice mail. She left a message and, some time later, received a phone call telling her that there was nothing that could be done. She would need to replace the mailbox at the end of the driveway.
So, the next morning, Miss Hazel called her Congressman, 9th term Representative John Tanner. The following day, she had her mail delivered to the new mailbox at her front door by the suitable walking postal carrier. The rural carrier drove right past her stop, but not without smiling at her house and thinking about the woman inside.
“Isn’t it a shame the lengths we have to go through nowadays to get anything done,” Congressman Tanner had told her.
“Why, yes it is. But, I’ve been around for a while, I’m an educated woman, and I’ll be damned if I’d ever let a bureaucrat take from me what I know is rightfully mine.”
“Yes, ma’am, I agree completely. I wish more people like you would get involved and fight so diligently for their rights.”
“Well, thank you again. If you ever need anything, you just let me know. You know my address here in Brownsville. I’m almost certain that I voted for you at least once or twice.”
“Well, Ms. Simmons, I certainly do appreciate that. And you let me know if you have any more problems. In fact, let me give you my cell phone number. That way, you can contact me anytime.”
It seems Miss Hazel just can’t help being a preferred customer.