When I stop and think about it, I really didn’t know Beth Schanbacher that well. But the passing of the Hannibal mail carrier a little over a week ago left me with an empty feeling as one would expect to feel when a friend at church or a good neighbor had died unexpectedly.
My family had become acquainted with Beth years ago when she was delivering mail in my neighborhood. Always friendly, Beth would pause to chat for a few moments, but not so long that It would throw her behind schedule.
Beth took an interest in our then little girl, Anna. Beth became accustomed to opening the mail slot on our front door and finding Anna’s blue eyes peering back at her.
As time passed and the two became buddies, it was not uncommon for Beth to include little gifts for Anna in with our mail around Christmas, Valentine’s Day or Anna’s birthday.
After Beth changed routes she still made a point of asking about Anna. She was amazed during a chance encounter with my now teen-age daughter that the little blond-haired girl she remembered was now taller than she was.
Beth would occasionally comment how good our house smelled when she delivered our mail and Nancy would be baking bread. Consequently, whenever we made knot rolls we made sure and bagged one or two up for Beth. More than once I had to chase Beth down with the goody bag because she would be up on our porch and gone in what seemed a heartbeat.
It was while Beth was still delivering mail in my neighborhood that I gained a whole new respect for her. One day while Beth was walking to the residence next door, a large dog came flying through the screen door at her. It knocked her over and bit her before a resident of the house could secure the animal. Amazingly, the very next day Beth was back on her route. And while I doubt I could have mustered the courage to go back up on the porch of the house where that dog resided, Beth found the intestinal fortitude necessary to perform the task.
While my family missed Beth when she switched routes and started delivering mail in the downtown area, I at least got to see her on occasion as I was setting a course either to or from city hall. We would smile and wave, and as time permitted, exchange small talk.
On occasion I would seek out a quote from her for a story I was working on. A little over a year ago I got a comment from Beth for a Friday the 13th story I was writing. Was she superstitious?
“I’m not even a little bit superstitious,” she said. “It’s hard to believe in superstitions if you believe in God.”
Page 2 of 2 - After Beth bought a building down the block from the paper, I would occasionally catch her out performing maintenance or watering the flowers she had planted in the window baskets.
Then some months ago I noticed that I hadn’t seen Beth on her route for some time. After a time I finally cornered the gentleman who was walking her beat and asked, “What gives?”
He simply told me she was on leave. I thought that meant she had a bunch of vacation time built up and had to use it. I never dreamed it might be something health related.
Twice within the past few weeks I noticed Beth’s truck parked by her building with its garage door open. And while I didn’t see her, I took it as a good sign that I’d be seeing her again soon. Not long after, as I sat in my car, I saw her drive past. I didn’t realize it would be the last time I’d see her.
Because I didn’t know Beth beyond a smile and small talk, it would be pre-sumptuous of me to say I’m missing a friend. I can, however, say that I’m mourning the death of a very good person.