Every now and then, Oak Creek Postmaster Nancy Peckham, known by most as "Babe," comes across a letter addressed: "To Grandpa. Oak Creek, Colorado." In a big city, those letters would go back to the sender.
But Peckham can look at the return address and follow back a trail of last name changes, remembering whose children married and moved to which towns. Within seconds, she'll find the right "Grandpa" and slip the letter into his box.
"Here, you know everybody, and you know everybody's joys in life and problems in life and everything," Peckham said.
People often stop to talk at the post office window, or say hello through their boxes, she said.
Getting letters to the right people, with or without specific addresses, is not too tough for a woman who is rumored to know all the box numbers of every person who has held a post office box in Oak Creek since the 1980s.
"That's how she knows people, by their box numbers," said longtime friend Peggy Barnes. The pair will be talking and bring up the name of an old friend and Peckham will say, "Oh yeah, box 507," Barnes said.
Besides knowing their box numbers, Peckham knows people, Barnes said. Old residents and newcomers alike treasure the minute or two they have to say "hello" while picking up their mail.
"It's just comforting," Barnes said. "Sometimes I won't even stop to pick up my mail if I don't see her truck there. I'll just wait for another day. She's just part of the flavor of picking up your mail."
Peckham has so much advice and ideas for people that "You get way more than your mail," Barnes said.
Peckham started in 1984 as a postal clerk in Oak Creek, the biggest town she's ever lived in. In 1987, she became postmaster, a position she has not left.
The career came naturally for a woman whose great grandfather and aunt on her father's side were both postmasters, and whose grandmother and aunt on her mother's side delivered mail or worked in the post office.
She was intrigued by the postal service early on, riding along with her grandmother during New York summers to deliver mail.
So when she graduated high school and found she had no desire to pursue a more traditional career for women such as a teacher, nurse or secretary, she went to the postal service. She started as a clerk in western New York at the same small office where her grandmother and aunt worked.
Peckham filled in on a delivery route when she was pregnant with the first of her two girls, working up until she had two weeks until her baby was due.
"I'd go to the door and say, 'I've got a delivery for you,'" she said with a laugh.
When Peckham first arrived in Oak Creek in 1976, she had that baby girl in tow and was joining her now ex-husband.
She was welcomed with the town's infamous Labor Day celebrations.
"The one thing I think that impressed me so much is the sky, how blue it was, and the sun," she remembered. That and the town's more "laid back" attitude, she said.
She started at the Steamboat post office, quit, then worked in housekeeping and construction, even shoveling snow off roofs one winter.
Finally she found her place at the Oak Creek Post Office. She worked, raised both of her girls, now 28 and 25, and in 1999, she remarried and built a dream house up on Twentymile Road.
Not everyone knows Peckham by "Babe," a sign of changing times. Older residents use the nickname, which was just a term of endearment her first husband called her, while newcomers choose to call her Nancy.
"In answering the phone at the post office, I can't very well say, 'Post Office, this is Babe,'" she said.
Over the years, the post office has seen some changes. With Stagecoach growing quickly, the delivery route has expanded, she said. Town boxes have been added and new scales have been bought, and online markets such as E-Bay have been great for business.
But computers for sending packages and other up-to-date technology have yet to enter the post office doors.
"It always seems like they try to keep ahead, but are always one little step behind," she said.
With her 17 years as postmaster, Peckham is part of Oak Creek's history. She also has worked to preserve the town's history. She helped start the Oak Creek and Phippsburg Historical Society when town historian Mike Yurich went to the Peace Corps in the late 1990s. She loves pouring over historical letters, accounts and other artifacts, and finds it of utmost importance to preserve those pieces of a past time.
Just as there is a romance with letters and a romance with history, there is a romance with books. So it follows that Peckham, a "lifetime library user" and a lover of books, found a place on the South Routt Library District board, where she filled duties such as president and treasurer from 1989 to 2001.
When a ballot question to fund a new library was defeated in the late 1990s by a few votes, Peckham was "heartbroken." But hopefully, she said, a future ballot question will make a new building
Oak Creek Town Clerk Nancy Crawford said Peckham has played important roles in town, and said she remembers the day Peckham was sworn in as postmaster.
"She was happy that day, she sure was," Crawford said. "I think the people in town were happy, too, because we had a local who was going to be there."
A local knows everyone in town and makes the office more user-friendly, Crawford said.
Post offices mean a lot to a small town, Crawford said, because they are the first place newcomers often stop and provide a meeting place. Everybody in town has to go to the post office once a day to get mail, she said.
The population of Peckham's hometown of Clifton, N.Y. was only 200 when Peckham was growing up. The town had a firehouse, a gas station and a post office.
Then the post office was shut down, against residents' wishes.
When it first closed, residents were promised that Clifton would keep its name and zip code. But pretty quickly, officials started trying to change the name of the town to Churchville.
Lose the post office and "then you've lost the town's identity altogether," Peckham said.