My mailbox began filling up with Christmas cards shortly after Thanksgiving. I’ve even received a number of Christmas email greetings on my computer. In North Routt County where I live, Christmas cards have been delivered by rural delivery drivers since the early 20th century. Today, the mail is delivered from Denver to nearby Steamboat Springs. It’s then brought north to our local post office in Clark, Colorado by our mail delivery employee and then he or she heads out in his or her SUV to deliver the mail to the rural residents of the Elk River Valley.
Years ago, the mail was delivered by a Rural Free Delivery (RFD) driver who drove a team of horses with a box sled in the winter and an early model jeep in the summer months. I recently dropped by to see my neighbor, Jo Semotan, who remembers the days of RFD coming to her mail box in a horse drawn box sled. Her father's family homesteaded in Deep Creek, just west of where I live. Her father, Quentin Semotan, was one of the founding father’s of the quarter horse industry. Her mother, Evelyn, and her family lived in Hahn's Peak, Strawberry Park, Steamboat Springs, and Mt. Harris. As rural residents often have, Jo decorated her mail box for the holiday season. Jo’s mailbox was adorned with pine garlands, red bows, a barb wire wreath, and an original mail bag used from the 1930s until the 1950s hanging over her official mailbox.
The RFD driver for Jo’s family was a Scotsman named, Grover Campbell. He would bring the Semotan’s mail from the Clark Post Office in a canvas bag with her father’s name on it. When Grover draped it over the mail post, he’d retrieve a second empty bag to take with him for the next day’s mail. Jo shared with me that residents along Grover’s route would give him a bottle of his favorite drink during the holidays. They’d share a nip with Grover and then send him on his way with wishes for a Merry Christmas. One year, Jo and her mother, Evelyn, spotted Grover’s box sled stopped on the bridge at the end of his route near his homestead. Knowing it was unusual that he would be parked there in the winter, Jo’s mother quickly gathered 4-year-old Jo and went to check things out. Once there, Evelyn found that Grover had suffered from one too many nips of holiday cheer. She lifted Jo into the box sled and drove the horses with Grover in tow back to the barn. Once there, Jo's father, Quentin, and his hired hand, Buck bundled up Grover and got him back home to his wife, Isabel.
As Jo relives Grover's deliveries, I find myself traveling back to her childhood and easily sense the warmth and pleasure in her reminiscing. Whether delivered by hand, by horse drawn box sled, jeep, or modern day SUV rural delivery, the ritual of the delivery of holiday greetings seems to nudge us to remember, to hold onto, and to value the friends and family members who make up our history, our story. Grover Campbell’s story was not only his, but Jo’s as well. His deliveries by horse drawn box sled made up an important part of the fabric of rural living when Jo was growing up. And the stories of Grover sharing a nip at each stop at Christmas time create a touchstone for Jo of not only a time gone by, but a fond memory of both her dear parents, Evelyn and Quentin.