Jesse B. Downey Oral History

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Record 14/16
Copyright HSKC and Tyler Campbell
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Date 11/10/1982
Abstract Jesse Downey (born 1900)

A resident of Rock Hall his entire life, Jesse Downey did clerical and office work before starting as a rural mail carrier in 1925, a job he held for 44 years. He drove his first route in a Model T Ford. That was not a long route, remembers Downey, "but it was very heavy both in parcel post and money orders also. Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward were the two leading mail order houses they dealt with. There were no shopping centers or anything like it in those days. Many people did not have cars so the mailman did their shopping." On his first day of work during a spring thaw, he got stuck time and time again. "The Model T was a tough old bird, but the mud was just as tough as they were, for the only hard-surface road that I had was from the Post Office to Coleman's Corner, and the other 22 miles was nothing but yellow clay."

Downey especially remembers the kindness of the patrons along his route, who would meet him at the end of their long lanes to save him time and trouble, offering coffee and treats. "It was these kindly acts that kept me not wanting to retire." During the winter, his unheated open-sided car and the walking portion of his route made working conditions difficult. A blizzard was raging one night when he went to the home of an old black man for shelter. "So I could not go any farther with the snow all over the inside of the car, for the curtains would not keep it out. So I got out of the car and …rapped on the door, and when he opened the door the o1d iron cook stove was almost dancing on the floor it was so hot... So I said to o1d Uncle Johnnie, 'Uncle' can I come in and take my boots off and put my feet on your oven?' And I will never forget what he said, 'Bless your heart, son, come in and stay as long as you like.' Everyone who has had cold feet knows that they can get so cold that the feeling of having feet disappear and you feel like you are walking on two blocks of wood."

In some ways, Downey became much more than a mail carrier to the people on his route. He checked on the elderly and infirm, he entertained local kids with practical jokes and listened to the joys and concerns of his patrons. During World War II, one old gentleman had three sons in the military, and Downey would read their letters to him. "One day I had a telegram for him so I drove in to his home…. And he said, 'Mr. Jesse, I hope it is not bad news, will you read it to me?'… Little did I think what was inside of that envelope, so I opened it up and there it was: 'Dear Mr. Elburn, we the United States Government regretfully have to inform you that your son Bernard has been killed in action.' ….The poor old fel1ow fell across the hood of the car and cried and cried." The old man lived to see his other sons come home, but died not long after. When he died I lost one of my best friends, for he was just that." When he retired, Downey was honored by the town of Rock Hall at a banquet, demonstrating his important role in the community.

7 original cassette tapes
Interview date 11/22/1982
Media Compact Disc
Narrator Downey, Jesse B.
Object ID 2657
Object Name Disc, Compact
Title Jesse B. Downey Oral History
COPYRIGHT INFORMATION ~ Oral histories copyright Historical Society of Kent County. Images copyright Tyler Campbell. Duplication or publication only with permission.

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Last modified on: September 07, 2012