Signed, sealed, delivered

 Letter carrier hangs up his mailbag after 35 years 

By Tom Rademacher
The Grand Rapids Press

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — In a world fraught with hyperbole and beguiled by euphemisms, Marty Keur is a breath of rarified air: “I’m just a mailman.”

But the hundreds of people he’s helped stay connected to loved ones in an old-fashioned way might disagree, according to The Grand Rapids Press.

So, too, is the young girl of 8 who used to skip alongside him as Marty tramped her family’s street, and grew into the young mother whose own kids now do the same.

And let’s not forget the three people whose lives he saved.

Few of us have walked in Marty’s shoes. Few of us could, banging out between eight and 11 miles a day, dodging everything from loose dogs to lightning.

Not only is he retiring after 36 years with the United States Postal Service, but nearly 32 of those years walking — and I stress walking — the same route, on Grand Rapids’ North End, uphill from Riverside Park.

He laughs. “I guess I just don’t like change.”

It was never a life-long dream, just something he gravitated to after graduating Creston High School in 1971, then serving six years with the U.S. Navy SEABEES as a heavy equipment operator.

He returned to Grand Rapids a married man, seeking a job in construction. When he found none, his father quipped, “Why don’t you become a mailman?”

On Feb. 10, 1979, he did. And later this month, he’ll hang up his pouch and reflect on a career spent in service to others.

He’d had his chances to switch to a motor route, where you drive a modified Jeep and deliver mail curbside. But he preferred to use the vehicle only to travel from loop to loop, snubbing what he calls “the tin can” where you can’t stretch your legs or commune with patrons. “I would have hated it.”

At the age of 60, he’s still got legs for the job, but his shoulder and hands are feeling the years. “No carrier retires fully healthy,” he says with a grin.

And sometimes, they retire with baggage of another kind.

For one, Marty rarely got to see either of his kids — Marty Jr. or Melissa — play sports, since he typically worked Saturdays, which doubled as game day.

“Three grand-slams,” he says of his son’s prowess in Little League competition years ago. “I never saw a one.”

He craves to make time up with his wife Jane as well. Too many workdays, he arrived to their Jenison home after dark, then hit the hay early so he could awake rested and ready for another 10-mile odyssey.

He shakes his head. “That’s just no way.” and his words trail off and then you hear “fair to her.”

It’s hard to tell if it’s the sting of cold in the air or if Marty’s eyes are welling up some when he talks about how much his family meant — and means — to him. “I can’t stress that enough,” he says. “If you’re going to do this job, you need a strong, understanding family.

“It’s the dangdest truth.”

On at least three occasions, Marty saw to it that other families gave thanks rather than grieved.

In one instance, he rushed up the stairs of a home filling with kitchen smoke to help an elderly lady out.

In another, he found a woman who’d slipped on ice and was immobile beneath her own car. It had happened on a little-traveled dead-end street, and if Marty hadn’t happened by, who knows?

In a third instance — which was richly celebrated in area media — Marty peeked in the windows of a home owned by a shut-in whom he normally saw every day, and winced to spot her walker at the top of the basement stairs. Sure enough, she’d fallen down them a day or two before, and if it weren’t for him, she likely would have lay there until she died.

In all his years a carrier, he’s also performed the sort of subtle kindnesses that we too often take for granted. Petting a friendly dog, tousling an urchin’s mop of hair, assuring someone with the blues that tomorrow’s another day.

For Susie Reed, Marty has been a touchstone not only for herself, but her kids.

Some 24 years ago, Susie was a kid of about 8, and looked forward every day to shadowing Marty as he delivered on her street near Briggs Park, something she could do year-round because she was home-schooled.

Today, as a 32-year-old mother, it warms her heart to live just two doors down from that kidhood address, and watch as she and husband Justin’s two kids — Hunter, 10, and Keller, 8 — follow in mom’s footsteps, right alongside Marty.

When they’re not attending school, “They watch for Marty every day,” she says.

As hard as Marty works, he’s taken it on the chin from folks who don’t understand that he deserves a daily lunch break. One time, he was reported for throwing undelivered mail into a barrel at a park. It was merely the wrapper off the sandwich Jane had made him that morning.

Another day, long ago, someone called his supervisors and said, “We don’t mind if your carrier rests under that tree, but we wish he wouldn’t leave his whisky bottles laying there.” They weren’t his.

He will miss the chit-chat. The waves. The thank-yous.

But not so much the half-dozen dog bites he endured. Or thunderstorms, or polar vortexes like the one that gripped us last week. And how some people seem to not own a snow shovel.

Come March, he will be spending more time with Jane, and their grandkids, Destiny and Austin and Leah.

But something tells me that when he looks back on the last 36 years, he will sense something more than “just a mailman.”

He will hear the aging doctor’s wife saying “Oh, I’m holdin’ on.”

He’ll remember so many winters morphing into spring, and everyone talking about it.

And each new summer, the playgrounds and pools and the parks filling with people. But not just any people. His people.


  1. No comments
Sign in to post a comment »