Sunday, December 21, 2014

Susan Cotten: A Gift Among Us

GIFTS XXI. December 21, 2014

For Susan Cotten, Moncure Postmaster

(What the United States Post Office neglected to see when they reshuffled their staff and replaced Susan, her last day being December 22.)


Kindness was her ministry.  She invited
us into her “living room” Nothing we
asked was too much trouble.  She wrote
out the money orders and paid the bills
for elderly who couldn’t see so well
or write so well.  She reveled in little
children and dogs.  A dish placed low
held lollipops, and not only children
helped themselves.  Her smile of
welcome never failed even during the
pre-Christmas rush when hundreds
of packages flooded into and out of
our little post office.  She comforted
and scolded her carriers and joked with 
them to lighten heavy mail days.  We 
told her our secrets, knowing that Susan 
kept them and cherished each one
of us, no matter our clothes, speech
accents, skin color, or religious
faith.  Her philosophy was simple:
treat others as you would like to be
treated.  “We’ve lost our bank and
our beauty parlor burned,” she said.
“We need a place where we can talk
and learn who’s sick, who died, who
had a baby.”  Newcomers were
welcome, and she soon had them
looking forward to coming in to
pick up their packages.  Some of us
came in every day to say hello.
We didn’t need an excuse.  Susan
always wanted to see us, would
ask what we were going to do today.
If we were driving to Durham or
Virginia, “Drive safely.”  If we
didn’t turn up for a day or two,
she’d worry.  Were we all right?
She was our treasure, our secret
weapon against the ravages of time,
our battles with sickness and old age,
our comforter when life turned tragic.
She’d bring out our packages as soon
as she saw us walk in the door, and
she’d even package up birthday and
Christmas gifts in spare boxes or 
the right size flat rate, if we needed
her to.  Best of all, she’d tease us
about our foibles and laugh with us
when we confessed our foolishness.
She was infinitely more than our 
unofficial, undesignated, underpaid
postmaster.  She was the heart of
a small, often forgotten and neglected
community named Moncure, North
Carolina.  In Russia they call such
villages “deaf.”  Maybe because
you don’t hear from them much 
any more.  But Susan heard us.
Susan’s ears heard our stories and
comforted our hearts, lifting them up
with her smile.  Without Susan
we are bereft.


In the  January issue of Carolina Country, the publication of our statewide rural electric cooperative company, my article on how Susan Cotten  inspires me will appear.  Here is a sneak preview:



Susan Cotten lifts my spirits every time she has time for a chat in our busy Moncure post office.  Moncure, a village in largely rural Southeast Chatham County, is served by Central Electric Membership Corporation.  We’re very diverse here: old-timers, newcomers, African Americans, Hispanics, rich, poor, old, young, factory workers, artists, farmers.

Susan greets us all as if we were the most important people in her world.  She says it’s like having us come into her living room.  She teases those she knows well and likes to get us laughing–sometimes at ourselves.  She’s comfortable to be around, and she’ll ask, “What will you be doing today?”  

We customers end up talking to each other, either with Susan, or outside on the porch of the post office.  Susan told me that she doesn’t judge people by skin color, clothes, or lifestyle. She pays attention to how they act.  She treats us well because it’s how she wants to be treated.  If an elderly person needs help filling out a money order, she does it gladly.  She doesn’t want anyone to feel that it’s an imposition to ask for help.  “I’ll be old one day.  I’m already as ‘old as dirt,’ my son says, and ‘older than sand.’”

When I have a new book published, she celebrates with me.  One woman comes in to show what she got for her granddaughter’s birthday.  The toddlers who come in with their mothers know about the dish of lollipops Susan keeps for them.  Whether you’re buying one stamp or mailing a whole raft of boxes, Susan is glad to see you.  She’s a fund of information about things local, which houses are for rent, which businesses are going to fold, and which new businesses are coming to the area.

Susan moved to Moncure when she was four and met her husband, David, in the eighth grade at Moncure School, and except for three years, they have lived here ever since.  She says she couldn’t give advice.  “I can barely live my own life.”  Her philosophy is: “Do what you think is right, or it will come back and bite you in the butt. Treat people well, as individuals.” 

I find Susan rare in her openness to other people, her sense of humor and fair play, her living out, quite simply, the Golden Rule we all sometimes have trouble doing

Judy Hogan is a published poet, mystery novelist, and free lance writer.  She lives and farms in Moncure, near Jordan Lake.

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