billy charles cantrell, may 5, 1998


May 5, 1998

Billy Charles Cantrell died on April 28th. I hardly knew him, but I had known of him for a long time. He had a waxed handlebar moustache & worked at the downtown post office. I trusted him with many, many packages & important letters & documents over the years. He stood out in a crowd. He made customers feel safe, you knew something you put into Mr. Cantrell’s hands was definitely going to arrive at its’ destination.

Someone I hardly knew died the other day, but I sat & stared at his obituary for a long time. I had always wondered about him, I had always wondered what he was like during his off hours. He worked at the downtown post office in Gainesville, where I have lived since 1981. He worked for the post office for 40 years. I hadn’t known he was retired. I think he died of cancer. He was 69 years old. He had college degrees in anthropology & archaeology, which I never knew. He’d been in the Army, he’d lived in Gainesville 44 years. He must have retired pretty recently. They’ve remodeled the lobby of the downtown post office now, so when I walk in there’s no trace of the old feeling, the old feeling that Mr. Cantrell gave us, the postal customers. He was handsome, and had sharp, penetrating eyes, but a good-natured smile & manner. He was unfailingly polite, unfailingly efficient. You could tell he was smart. I wish I’d known him better, I wish I’d met him for coffee or something. He had no children.

I wonder how long he’d been sick. Maybe he retired at 65? Should I call his widow? Tell her what he meant to me? His picture was in the obituary, otherwise I’d never have known who it was. I’m so glad she included his picture. So very glad. I’ll bet Shelley knew him, or at least knew who he was. Oh, I hope he didn’t die of a brain tumor.

Dear Mr. Cantrell, we hardly knew ye. But thanks anyway, thanks for working 40 years in that post office, thanks for taking the envelopes and boxes so very gently and firmly and wonderfully. Thanks for your sensitive looking hands and your brisk manner, your occasional smile, that glint in your eye of humor. You were always thinking a lot of things, that was clear. You were very much alive from the neck up.

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