~ Small Town Postmaster Earns Community’s Respect
By Louise Lindgren
Lucy Spada, retired postmaster of the Town of Index, lived by two rules–Help where you can and keep your own counsel – Good advice on how to get along in a small town from one who knows. Born in her parent’s home in Index, Washington in August 1923, she lived there with her parents most of her life. And, in over three decades of managing the post office, she stubbornly kept her own counsel and earned a reputation for discretion that is unrivaled among the people of that town.
What goes into the upbringing of such a lady? Certainly strong Italian Catholic parents and the traditions they brought with them from the old country in 1922 were factors. Lucy spoke Italian until she started school, but from then on English was encouraged at home. Her father was strict in training her to blend in and live as an American citizen. If he’d had a crystal ball, he would have been pleased to see her raise the American flag in front of the post office every working day for thirty-five years.
However, back in the twenties and early thirties such a future was far from the imagination of the little girl who played Run Sheep Run, Hide and Seek, and took pleasure in walking on tall wooden stilts.
Winters often meant trekking through snowdrifts five feet deep, following the path stamped out by her father’s heavy hip boots to the base of School Hill. Then a slippery climb up the broom-swept boardwalk would bring her to the top from which she could see out over the little town along the river with towering mountains as its backdrop. When school was out, the hill became the scene of daredevil sledding and toboggan runs.
In the summers, time was spent in the gardens, for in those early Depression years, every empty lot became “fair game for those who needed to raise their own produce to survive” she recalls. Some summers the circus came to town, and put up its tents in an empty field – giving Lucy’s little brother and other boys the opportunity to haul water for the animals in exchange for a ticket. “We didn’t need much money back then,” she said. “It wasn’t like today. We didn’t need the ‘right’ jeans or running shoes. Back then we were happy to have shoes!”
Lack of money didn’t stop the community from providing its young people with the pleasures of group activities. When it was clear that fees involved with joining Girl Scouts and Campfire were beyond the reach of most families, a Girls Club was formed with no fees required. Members could earn “merit medallions” by completing public service and learning projects.
In 1941, graduating at the top of her class in high school brought Lucy to her first public crisis, the dreaded valedictory speech. Four typewritten pages had to be memorized. She had been in several school plays (always pulling the parts which had plenty of lines to learn), but this was different. In rehearsal for the ceremony, the Superintendent would sit at the back of the vast gymnasium and listen for the clarity of each and every word. A drop in volume would bring the command, “Begin, again!” She said, “I can’t do it.” And he said, “You will do it because it’s part of your senior English assignment.” So, she did!
There was an innovative post-graduate course offered at the high school back then. Students could return to take whatever they had missed out on, such as a special subject or foreign language. Lucy availed herself of this, as well as working part time at the general store. Four-hour Saturday morning housecleaning stints brought in an extra fifty cents per week.
After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, the townspeople mobilized for the war effort. Lucy remembers the scrap drives, rationing, Red Cross training, and the ladies meeting at a local hotel to knit socks and make bandages. Settled deep in the mountain valley, Lucy took her turn at the twenty-four hour watch from the porch of City Hall, scanning the small patch of sky above for enemy planes. The wider world had intruded on a peaceful existence.
Soon, she joined that wider world, taking a job as clerk in Hammer’s Department Store in the “big city” of Monroe, twenty-three miles away. Two hours of every working day were spent sitting on an Index Stage Company bus. Another hour and a half was spent in the bus station after work, waiting for the “seven o’clock” to carry her home to an eight o’clock dinner.
Lucy’s big break came in 1951. Index’s long-time postmistress was forced to retire because of her age, and the best job in Index was open. “I’d no more thought about applying than flying to the moon!” she said. But her friends persuaded her to try. It was an arduous process, and much depended on letters of recommendation, preferably with one from a Congressman. Fortunately, Lucy’s public-spirited father was a personal friend of Congressman Henry M. Jackson, who willingly wrote the appropriate missive. A grueling all-day civil service exam followed for the young woman who admitted to being “scared to death.”
On April Fool’s Day, 1951, the postal inspectors came to finger-print Miss Lucy Spada, Postmaster, at her place of business in back of the general store. She was “on-stage” again – ready to meet the public every day of her business life. Her duties included providing a physical space for the post office. It was expected that ten percent of her salary would pay the rent for her small office and all the post office boxes. She even bought two empty lots next door for building a new office in case the store closed down.
During her thirty-five-year tenure, Lucy was privy to the most private information about each person in town. She knew who was being hounded by the bill-collector, who was receiving nasty I.R.S. letters, who received the summons and the lawyer’s letters. And, she said not a word. Of course, it was “postal regulations” to respect confidentiality, but on the other hand, there’s always the human factor which can break most any regulation. Not in Lucy’s case. And for that, she is respected by every person in the Town of Index.
Retirement meant an increase in public service and domestic projects. Whether it was crocheting an afghan for the church bazaar, cooking for a bake sale, or helping the museum – whatever needed doing, she was there. She upheld her father’s standard of maintaining immaculate gardens. Often she was seen quickly pushing her hand-mower across the manicured lawn for one last pass before a storm hit. After retirement, and with the illness of her mother weighing heavily upon her, Lucy Spada finally left her girlhood home to live nearer to her mother, who was in a senior facility in Monroe. The Town of Index is the less for her leaving, but her lessons of community service and discretion have been passed on to good advantage.
Source: Interview with Lucy Spada by Louise Lindgren, June 4, 1990
© 2006 Louise Lindgren All Rights Reserved; WLP Story 39