Ray Duckler: Sending a message, right to the end
Julie Richtarik walks along Blake Street delivering mail on her last day.
(GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)
Julie Richtarik walks away after saying goodbye to Attorney Jim Moir and office manager Mary Lunderville of Moir and Rabinowitz Law office on Green Street, Tuesday June 24, 2014 on her last day of delivering mail.
(GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)
The bone in her foot, sore and needing surgery after walking the equivalent of 15 times across the country, never slowed Julie Richtarik down yesterday.
Instead, the slender 54-year-old letter carrier with sandy blond hair and a smile that never quits had to stop, over and over, because everyone wanted to say goodbye.
“This is it,” Richtarik said yesterday, shortly before hanging up her mail satchel after 30 years, including 10 downtown. “I’m not going to miss the snow or the cold or the humidity. But I’ll miss the people.”
One of those people, on the business portion of her mail route, was Brett St. Clair, who works for a public relations firm on Warren Street. He suggested we write about Richtarik because, “She’s an institution in this town. She should be a character in Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.”
I found that to be true, after walking the afternoon segment of Richtarik’s daily 6-mile loop.
As a retiree, she’ll travel with her husband and spend time with her two grown daughters, both of whom still make fun of her Boston accent, the one formed in West Roxbury and never met an “R” it liked.
Also, Richtarik promises to visit the people who say she delivered far more than envelopes all these years.
This week, they hugged her, cried, baked her cakes and gave her presents. She got snarled in stop-and-go traffic like a car in Boston’s rush hour, never getting very far because no one would let her leave, at least not quietly.
There was the administrative assistant at the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire, the staff at Granite State Candy Shoppe, the lawyer at a downtown firm, the basketball star in the local adult basketball league, the senior couple honking their horn as they drove by, the office managers at the chiropractic clinic, the physical therapy clinic and the environmental agency, the people walking their dogs, the schoolteacher who taught her children, the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker.
All wanted a piece of Richtarik.
“It’s bittersweet,” Richtarik said. “I look at it this way: What I’ve been telling everyone is I’m not going to be gone. I will have more time to come around and chitchat with people and stop to talk and not be rush rush. We’ll get together, have lunch, do different things. Like I said, they’re all like a family to me. I care about them more than just in terms of delivering the mail.”
The feeling’s mutual.
From School Street to Green Street, Warren Street to North Spring Street, Centre Street to Union Street, Richtarik touched people in a unique way.
She remembered their names and their backgrounds, recalled who was happy and why, and who was going through a rough time.
That’s why Cathy Carr of Concord, an office manager at a local chiropractic clinic on School Street, gave Richtarik a bag of goodies: a bottle of wine, a movie (Rock of Ages), popcorn, candy and a candle.
“A date night present,” Carr told Richtarik. “I’ve only been here for 11 months, but we’ve bonded so well. You coming through that door with your smile meant so much to me.”
Someone gave Richtarik a raspberry cake, which she snacked on yesterday, during a break. Folks at the Concord Public Library on Green Street gave her a bracelet. During winters, customers gave her hot chocolate, during summers, cold drinks.
Little boys who came outside with their little dogs to greet her through the years later approached Richtarik while working as young men, at a local bank or Wal-Mart.
Remember me? they’d ask.
Richtarik always did.
Stories from customers, about the letter carrier who cared, are forever attached to Richtarik like stamps to envelopes.
Tammy Trahan, the administrative assistant at the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire, worried about the scar on her neck after surgery, so Richtarik bought her a scarf.
“She’s a person you always want to be around because she’s always smiling,” Trahan said. “People gravitate to her. She’s full of dynamite, and she can make any grumpy person smile.”
“Sweet, awesome, outgoing, amazing,” said Amelia Gibeault of Loudon, standing behind the counter at Granite State Candy Shoppe.
Added co-worker Tal Smith of Concord, “We’re going to steal her, because we love her so much.”
Love and a carefree life didn’t always follow Richtarik during work hours. Remember, she delivers mail.
And while neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds, these conditions can certainly slow you down a bit.
Richtarik has fallen on ice, mud and wet concrete. She needed stitches after a pair of dogs ambushed her, and a tetanus shot after another dog bite.
She carried spray repellent, attached to her belt by a rubber band, and said she used it just once. She motioned with her hand to show that the spray traveled about a foot that one time, then fell straight to the ground.
“Didn’t do much good,” Richtarik said.
It’s part of her uniform, or at least used to be, along with the dark blue shorts and shirt, a lighter shade of blue, we all associate with employees of the United States Postal Service.
A smiley face balloon, attached to her bag, was new, given to her by her supervisor in the morning, before she left to deliver the mail for the last time. Her crisp pace, always effortless, left the balloon bobbing and floating behind her, the perfect image to be trailing someone like Richtarik.
By 3:45 p.m., with clouds providing some relief to the humidity, Richtarik walked onto Union Street and began the countdown.
“Three more houses,” she said, loud enough for a good chunk of the block to hear.
The balls of her feet, she knew, would be puffy by the time she got home. She’s having surgery tomorrow to remove a bone on the bottom of her right foot, an injury she believes to be an occupational hazard.
She limped slightly by the end of the day.
She dropped some junk mail inside her final mailbox, at 9 Union St., at 3:48 p.m. Then she used a small rectangular device to scan a bar code on the box, officially signaling headquarters that her retirement had begun.
“Woohoo,” Richtarik said, raising her arms. “That’s it.”