Carrying the mail on Memory Lane
By Bobby Bryant, Editor
Ed O’Neal first walked into Darlington’s old Post Office, as an employee, in 1961, when he was about 20 years old. On a recent Saturday night, he entered there again to see the building reborn as entertainment venue the Grand Old Post Office. “It brought back a lot of memories,” said O’Neal, 79, a Darlington resident virtually all his life. “I could remember all the stuff and where everything was. They did a good job. I was well pleased with what they did. … I had thought (the building) would just fall apart.” Darlington County coroner and businessman Todd Hardee bought the vacant Post Office, more than 100 years old, and put $500,000 into renovating it. Except for a brief attempt to put small shops in the building, it had gone empty and unused since 2001, when a new Post Office was built near Darlington High School. O’Neal worked in the original Pearl Street Post Office for 40 years, briefly working in the new building before retiring. Seeing the renovated Post Office brought back a flood of memories. The renovated building features a giant photo blowup of postal employees at work; O’Neal worked with the people in the photo. “I can see right where my desk was, where I worked,” O’Neal said of the renovated building. The building “has come alive again.” When you work in a building for several decades, you invest a piece of yourself in that building, and the structure itself becomes like a storehouse of memories. Some of O’Neal’s postal memories include: — The struggle with the great 1973 snowstorm that paralyzed much of the Pee Dee area. “That’s the worst time we ever had,” O’Neal said. “For the first, probably three days, we didn’t do anything, because we had nothing coming in. … When you’ve got almost two and a half feet of snow on the ground, there’s not a whole lot you can do.” O’Neal remembers that it took nearly two weeks before mail carriers could drive their vehicles; the snow would melt a little, then freeze again. “It almost lasted a month” before things were back to normal. — The occasional dog bites he endured as a mail carrier. “Nine times out of 10, it was a chihuahua. They were the worst. … Most of my bites were from small animals.” — The people he met on his mail routes. “You get to know them intimately,” sometimes based on nothing but their mail. “You get to know them.” He enjoyed delivering kids’ birthday cards in particular.