BRATTLEBORO -- Pete Sederstrom may not have children of his own, but you'd better believe he has family.
On Jan. 25, Pete's last day after 12 years as the sole postal clerk of the North Brattleboro Post Office, that family came to say goodbye.
"So many people, my customers from over the years, stopped by," Pete says on a windy morning just a few days later. Gail Sorenson of Dummerston, a friend and longtime North Brattleboro Post Office customer, had organized a farewell gathering for him."These kind folks brought cookies and hugs, and so many cards came in, I must have gotten 75 cards. They said such nice things to me. They made me feel sad and happy. I held my composure, but afterward, well,
When Pete put in his bid to be the postmaster for the North Brattleboro office in 2001, he doubted he was right for the job.
He'd worked at the downtown Brattleboro post office since the mid 1980s, save 13 months in White River Junction, but always behind the scenes, content with a 2 to 10:30 a.m. shift that gave him lots of time to himself.
"I am a bit of a loner," he says. "I like to bike and kayak, things where you have a lot of solo time, though of course my girlfriend, Jackie, comes with me in the summer. If you'd known me 20, 30 years ago you would never have seen me as a people person."
A period of personal upheaval in 1990 first shook Pete away from his solitary self. As he
"It was Eric who suggested I bid for the job in North Brattleboro," he remembers. His kind, eager eyes soften with the memory, the depth of feeling bringing a flush to his forehead and cheeks.
"Everybody loved Eric. He did about 20 different jobs in the Brattleboro post office, but he always had time for people. You were his focus if you were talking to him. I still strive to be like him: a brave, family man."
He shakes his head. "He said I would love North Brattleboro. He said it would be my niche. I said, ‘Me? I don't believe you. But I'll try.'"
Pete had never worked with the public. He had never worked the counter. He had never even made change.
North Brattleboro wasn't just any station, either. It's a one-clerk operation, in a lovely building, where it's possible for people to get to know the man sorting their mail and pasting postage on envelopes and boxes. In the tradition of the rural post office, the North Brattleboro station and its clerk serve as a fixed point for many of its customers, the kind of steady, familiar connection that makes a town feel like home.
The previous clerk, Donald Forbes, was beloved by his customers; Pete knew this and was nervous about filling such big and unknown shoes.
"But Eric said to stick it out," he says. "The first month was hard, it really was. Three or four months in, though, I got into the flow of it."
He smiles, and and then smiles more, even as sadness brings the happiness into relief. "Eric got cancer, but he was never bitter. He was always positive, always giving. He did get to see me there, doing well, before he died."
Sometimes it takes a best friend to see our potential for us. In North Brattleboro, Pete had ample time to work alone, as he was the only employee. But here, he was also a figure in people's lives. Day by day, person by person, he grew into the sweet
"I learned that people are nice!" He laughs. "I saw the children grow, and then have children of their own. This place made me part of so many families. You know, I never had kids. But I had North Brattleboro."
The decision to take an early retirement offer from the Postal Service wasn't an easy one. In the end, Pete saw that the timing was right.
"I felt like I was able to be a real public servant at my station, which is very important to me, and not always easy in a large bureaucratic organization," he says. "So it's good to step aside on that note."
"My time in North Brattleboro made me a better person. I have found such a nice life. So now, not that I'm any great person or anything, but I'd like to give back,"
Today, though, his head is still full of all he was given as he left his post. The card from the Dummerston church. Beautiful memories that customers shared with him. People who had moved from the area returning to wish him well.
At his retirement party, his friends Lucy Parker and Winnie Vogt came to say goodbye.
"Lucy is 95," he says. "And blind. What a special moment that was to see her there. I'll remember it for the rest of my life."
When it was time to go, Pete walked Lucy back to the car. Winnie turned to him.
"She said, ‘I love you.'" He lets out a big breath and smiles. "And I said ‘I love you' back."
His eyes shine.
"That was all I could say."
Becky Karush is a regular contributor to the Reformer. Learn more about her writing services at www.lifestorycompany.com. To suggest people for this column, write to her at email@example.com.