Longtime mail carrier Lanell Long, 80, retires
“Never in my life have I ever dreaded going to work.”
Lanell Long may be one of the few people who can honestly make that statement. And after 36 years of delivering mail, that is saying a lot.
Long filled in on mail routes for 10 years before her first husband, Emmett Lewis, was hired for the Pontiac/Oakland, Arkansas, route in 1993. She delivered mail with him until his death in 1995. Then she took over the route and never regretted her decision to make that her career. In fact, she said, taking over for her husband helped in the grieving process.
“In 1995, the Dora carrier got hurt,” she said. “He was the one who came to pick up the mail from Gainesville and took it to the Dora post office. After he got hurt, me and my husband took turns doing that until my husband died. I did it for a while after that. I think it was good for the grieving process.”
Long said one of her favorite things about being a mail carrier was seeing nature.
“I see more stuff in one day than some people see in a lifetime,” said Long. “I see the change of colors. I’ve seen about 100 deer in one day, a cougar and bobcats. I feel so close to God out there amongst nature.”
While nature is her favorite thing about delivering the mail, Long said she has more than enough mail-carrier memories, good and bad, to last a lifetime, including unexpected “gifts” left for her in mailboxes.
“I’ve had a lot of different things show up in mailboxes,” said Long, laughing. “Once a kid put a big ol’ rubber black snake in a mailbox. I screamed so loud they could hear me all the way back at Gainesville.”
‘Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night’
Though it’s not the official motto of the U.S. Postal Service, Long took the traditional slogan’s seriously, missing only one day of mail delivery in her 36 years. That was during the ice storm of 2008.
“There’s been lots of icy days that wasn’t too pleasant, but we got through it,” she said.
“Once when the creeks were up, I found an older lady who was on one side of the creek and afraid to cross it,” said Long. “I knew it wasn’t too deep so I told her I’d drive her car across for her.”
After driving the other woman across the creek, Long found herself in an awkward situation. “There I was on the other side of the creek and I had to wade back across. That water was cold!” she said.
High water does present challenges, said Long, including the time she got stuck and had to call a wrecker. It came but couldn’t reach her and had to try another tactic.
“They came to get me on the Missouri side but couldn’t get to me,” said Long. “They had to come the long way,” down Highway 5, across the Arkansas/Missouri state line to Highway 202 and all the way to Oakland, on the Arkansas side of her route.
Long said one of the nicest things about her customers is that they let her know how much they appreciate her, especially around Christmastime. “Sometimes you open the mailbox and there will be cookies, candy, envelopes. One year I even got enough cash to pay my taxes.”
But not all her experiences have been joyful.
“A mail carrier gets to know a lot about their [customers’] lives,” said Long. “I once noticed a man hadn’t picked up his mail for a couple days. When the Ozark County Times wasn’t picked up on Friday I knew something was wrong.”
She checked on the man and found that he had been dead for about three days.
It wasn’t the first – or the last – time that Long checked on one of her customers. “You know who picks up their mail regularly,” she said. “When we think something is unusual, we check on them. That’s part of being a good person.”
Long has worked out of every post office in Ozark County and for 20 postmasters in the past 36 years. She has seen the number of her customers grow significantly to the current 386 customers on her route.
“I started with eight people in the Oakland/Price Place, Arkansas, area,” said Long. “Now there are about 80. A lot of people have moved in.”
Roads and vehicles have also changed since Long began delivering mail.
“Years ago, there weren’t very good tires,” said Long. “It was nothing to have three flats a day. We also used to have better vehicles; I found out the old Buicks just keep a- going.”
As for road conditions, Long said they are “so much better than they used to be. I took my nephew from Florida with me one day to the Oakland [Arkansas] area, and he later told his friends, ‘They get mail service in Marion County [Arkansas] where they don’t even have roads.’”
A few days before retiring, Long was surprised with a retirement party from her co-workers in the Gainesville post office, who presented her with a special T-shirt created just for her. While the front of the shirt is filled with some “statistics” about years, miles and packages, Long laughed when she showed the back of the shirt, especially the line that says, “Hit 2026 Mailboxes.”
“My arms are just too short, and sometimes I get too close,” she explained.
Eighty-year-old Long doesn’t plan on sitting around during retirement. “I have calves and chickens,” she said. “I love the garden and yard. I won’t be bored.”
But she will miss a few things about her job, especially her co-workers. “I will miss the ones I work with,” she said. “They are like my family. You work with them so long, and they become your family.
“I love the job,” she said. “I’d rather be there than anywhere else. But I prayed I’d be working until 80, so I figure now is the time to quit. It’s been a good ride.”