This is not hyperbole: Knowing your mail carrier can change your life.
“Get to know your mail carrier, you can solve so many problems that way,” says Jeanette Jones.
Admittedly, she’s a little biased. Jones—or “JJ” to those who’ve gotten to know her— carried the mail around Ewing, Trenton and Lawrenceville for about 30 years until the end of March, when she retired.
But lest you think Jones— whose alternate a.k.a., by the way, is “Mail Lady”— is talking about making a mail carrier’s life easier, she’s actually talking about everyone else’s. Consider, for example, this:
“When my customers go away on vacation,” she says, “I would keep an eye on their house.”
Maybe mail carriers are an invisible fleet to a lot of people; a person shows up while you’re at work and leaves you everything from postcards to coupon clippers in the little box out front like a day-to-day Santa Claus.
But for people around while Jones was doing her route, she became a part of the community. When she would take a day off, she says, customers on her route would notice she was gone. In return, the community became part of her.
“To see those little babies grow up, to see the kids wave back,” she says, “that’s a beautiful thing. I see them and they say, ‘Hi, Mail Lady.’ It just makes my day.”
‘When I first joined the post office, it seemed like it was about quality. Now it seems like it’s all about quantity. That just hurts my heart.’
Jones, who’s lived in Ewing for 34 years, peppers conversation with the word “blessing.” That’s not hyperbole either. She sees much of her life, including her now-former job, as exactly that, even if she leaves a much different USPS than the one she joined in 1988.
“Ugh, boy, it’s a lot different,” she says. “When I first joined the post office, it seemed like it was about quality. Now it seems like it’s all about quantity. That just hurts my heart.”
A lot of the “older ones” are leaving the job for that reason, Jones, 59, says. She’s weathered the lack of personal letters, replaced by email; the need to deliver and compete with the likes of Amazon. That stuff never really bothered her.
It’s more that the nature of the Post Office has shifted. Back in the day, she says, fellow carriers would do their routes and if someone was behind or needed some help, the carriers would check on each other and pitch in.
They still help, she says, but the difference is whereas she would ask how another carrier needed help and then do that, younger carriers tend to just take a piece of the route that is most convenient to them, and off they go.
Jones blames the lower-wattage camaraderie on the fact that the Post Office these days is just insanely busy and insanely mechanized to make everything efficient.
It’s hardly surprising the USPS has tried to maximize efficiency, given that it’s been in competitor-induced financial arrears for quite some time. The latest tally on USPS debt from the federal General Accounting Office states that the Post Office held $125 billion in unfunded liabilities and debt at the end of fiscal 2015.
What that translates to in practical terms for human beings who work at the Post Office, Jones says, is a rush-rush, get-it-done mentality that’s long on getting items delivered and short on carriers taking the time to get to know each other, much less the people they serve in neighborhoods.
“Part of the job is loving your customers,” Jones says. But that, she fears, is becoming lost in a society in which everyone is connected to each other, but they’re not necessarily connected with each other.
So it might not be such a surprise to know that JJ is a little nervous about what retirement will be. In fact, a couple weeks before her official retirement on March 31, she said to her husband, Everett, “Baby, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do this retirement thing.”
To take the sting out of no longer walking through her Lawrenceville route anymore, Jones said she plans to be more involved with her church, Victorious Church on Scotch Road.
She joined four years ago because, she says, she walked through the door and immediately felt loved in a way she’d never felt.
The experience was a definite shift from her Pentecostal upbringing, where going to church was an all-day event that often felt like more of a ritual than a worship, she says.
Victorious is a non-denominational Christian church with a looser feel and a less formal nature— although she still likes to put on her Sunday best to go.
Jones was raised by her grandmother in the Pentecostal way. She was born in South Carolina, but was brought to Trenton as a baby and grew up in the city.
In 1969, she moved to a new place in Trenton, and the woman next door had a nephew who’d come by to do some masonry work every so often. The young mason was Everett Jones, who was clearly taken with young Jeanette. Her feelings in return?
“I didn’t like him at all,” she says. And her grandmother was having none of any man thinking he was getting somewhere with a young lady under her watch.
Everett soon joined the Army and then came back a few years later. Jeanette’s sister saw him one day and the two chatted and looked through a photo album he had. In there was a picture of Jeanette. The sister hadn’t known that the two knew each other.
Jeanette agreed to give Everett one more shot, after he offered her his watchband to replace the one that had broken on her own watch, and, well, they had four children and nine grandchildren together, and she still says things like “That’s my baby” about him.
Actually, the relationship solidified after Jeanette got ill. She’d been taking a blood thinner that turned out to be causing problems like pulmonary embolisms. A 24-year-old Jeanette was one of its victims.
“I was on my deathbed,” she says. “Ten days in the hospital.”
She recovered, she says, with a little help from God, and she always tells people in a bad way that story, to say, “Look what God did for me. He can do the same for you.”
‘I have this one motto I live by. It doesn’t hurt you to smile at people.’
As it concerns Everett, though, the thing to keep in mind is, he was there to take care of her while she recovered. Jones says her husband is, in his personality, her counterbalance.
She’ll talk to anybody with an open heart; he’s reserved and needs to get to know you before he’ll say much at all. But he’s always been there for her, and he will be in retirement too. He’s retired as well, from the state Department of Corrections.
One thing Jones has done for a long time (27 years, to be exact) that she is considering continuing is something she dubbed the Post Office Outreach. At its simplest, the Outreach is a holiday drive through which postal carriers deliver gifts like toys to less fortunate families.
The idea started in Jones’ “old church” in the early 1990s. She had a route on Stuyvesant Avenue in Trenton that included one building full of especially poor residents; many of whom were kids.
Jones asked some people she knew for some old toys that she’d clean up— as in, she washed and dressed teddy bears and Barbie dolls—and dropped them off because she figured “people would be so happy.”
It turned out, they were. The collection grew and evolved into new toys for the kids. Jones recruited some young people from her church to help her drop things off, and before long, she had built the Outreach program, which she ended up taking to the three post offices she’s worked out of in Trenton and Lawrence.
Jones says she’s tempted to keep doing the outreach in retirement. It is, she says, her heart. But she does hope someone with an equal amount of heart wants to take it over and continue it.
Outreach has always been something Jones has been partial to, though. Even if it was just smiling at her customers, who often could use it.
So often, she says, she’d be a little too far in her own head and someone would say good morning and it would turn her whole day around. So she’s always liked to pay it back. A smile, she says, tends to perk anyone up. Especially if they’re annoyed at how nice she is.
“I have this one motto I live by,” she says. “It doesn’t hurt you to smile at people.”
And for the especially cranky ones?
“The meaner they come, I see I got a job to do with a harder smile,” she says.
A retirement dinner is being held in Jones’ honor on May 20 at 4 p.m. Anyone who would like to attend should contact Asia Jones for further details at firstname.lastname@example.org.