Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Postman’s Stories

Day after day, week after week, month after month, his caring hands have delivered mail to Shepherdstown residents for over two decades. Although the names and faces of the people on his route have changed, and businesses have come and gone, Kevin Carter continues to keep up with the changing dynamics of Shepherdstown. His interest in family history, his antique cars, and his love of music, all play a part in what makes this Shepherdstown native more than just your mailman.  They say everyone has a story to tell, and just like the letters he delivers, this postman has many stories to tell.
When I first arrived to interview Kevin at his mother’s house, I couldn’t help but notice how beautiful the vista was, with rolling hills and large rocks breaking through the landscape. I learned later, that all this land had been part of Rock Spring Farm, where Kevin’s mother had grown up.  Kevin was born and raised in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.  In fact, apart from the five months following his marriage to Sandy in 1988, Kevin has spent his entire life in Shepherdstown. Kevin and Sandy built their home on a couple of acres that used to belong to historic farm, as did his parents in 1972. His mother, Linda Carter, still lives next to him. After opening the door for me, Mrs. Carter introduced herself by saying “My name is Linda Carter. I’m Wonder Woman.  That’s how you can remember my name.”  Chuckling at that, I made my way into their home.
I told Kevin that I had heard he is the mailman in Shepherdstown.  He laughed, saying “Yeah, but I don’t deliver to my own mailbox, though.  That’s a different mail route.”  His route is a mix of town and country, starting out at the apartments on Church Street, going down Engle Molers Road and River Road.  After graduating from Shepherd University in the Spring of 1988 with a degree in Graphic Design, Kevin had spent five years working as a Graphic Artist before realizing that was not where he wanted to be. “Graphic art is different from painting in the way you have all these deadlines to meet and clients to make happy.  I just felt I was heading in the wrong direction.” Fortunately for the residents of Shepherdstown, this need for change prompted Kevin to take the Civil Service exam, and shortly after, Kevin found himself working as a substitute mail carrier in 1993, becoming a permanent mail carrier in 1998, and he has had the same route since then.
Starting out at Shepherd University as a Music Major, Kevin played the trombone in the Shepherd Jazz Band throughout the six years he was there, even after switching his major to Graphic Art.  You can tell how much he loves music just by watching him when he talks about it.  Adjusting in his chair, moving forward just a little, he told me “I was in the jazz ensemble, concert band, marching band in high school, and I did the same thing when I went to Shepherd.” Wonder Woman piped in, and encouraged him to tell me about being in the West Virginia All-State Band (as any proud mother would do).  Kevin was selected as an All-State band member during high school; 8th chair his junior year and 2nd chair his senior year. Kevin says he still gets to play his trombone once-in-a-while, either through church or being asked to fill-in for a jazz band or a swing band. Although he is the organist for his church, it’s obvious he would love the opportunity to play his trombone more often.
His love of historic cars came from his first car, which was a 1962 Rambler Classic his grandfather purchased brand new. It’s a three-speed manual transmission, which is unique, has shiny teal paint job, and is in pristine condition. The other classic car he has is a 1948 Nash Ambassador – but that wasn’t his first Nash Ambassador.  Just like the Rambler Classic, his first Nash Ambassador originally belonged to his grandfather.  After an accident left the car inoperable, he traded it as a parts car for the 1948 Nash Ambassador he has now. After rebuilding the engine, transmission, and driveshaft, the newer car runs beautifully. Taking a different car each week, you can usually find Kevin at the classic car “Cruise-In” in Ranson, WV during the summer.  This gives him a chance to show off his cars and talk to other car enthusiasts.

Kevin and his 1962 Rambler Classic

Kevin is extremely knowledgeable about the history of the area.  During our conversation, I was surprised to learn about a Native American burial site where the Glen Haven neighborhood is located.  The site was discovered when his great grandparents sold some of their property in Bakerton to a housing developer.  As the ground was being excavated for the new water system, human bones were found.  American University sent out archeologists to further search the area, where they found several more sites. He went into detail, explaining how the archeologists cut perfect rectangles into the ground, carefully sifting through the dirt as they searched for more remains, mentioning that his father took several home videos of the process.
Having seen a few changes in Shepherdstown over the years, Kevin was quick to point out the number of sub-divisions that have popped up.  Of course, those changes also included the Food Lion shopping center.  Before Food Lion was built in the early 1990’s, the biggest grocery store in the area was the Shepherdstown Super Market, which is now home to Subway and the Dollar General.  Kevin recalled there was a time when you could do all your shopping within the town of Shepherdstown.  A building on German Street housed both, Cave’s Grocery Store on the left side of the building and the post office on the right. There was a Five and Dime, Western Auto, Byron’s Hardware, and there was an International Harvester store on Princess Street, the same building currently houses Specialty Business Supply.  The red and black logo for International Harvester was still painted on the brick the last time the exterior was updated.
The Carters have been in Shepherdstown since the 1880’s.  Kevin’s great-great grandfather came to this area during the Civil War and worked as a blacksmith for the Harpers Ferry Federal Armory.  Linda’s family, the Coopers, moved into the area in the 1920’s, working on the railroads.  A graduate of Shepherdstown High School, Mrs. Carter was the librarian at Shepherdstown Elementary for over 30 years.  Growing up on Rock Spring Farm, she said “You worked if you were on the farm.  You were either outside, where you were planting or you were weeding or you were harvesting, or you were putting chickens in the freezer. I cleaned the big house every Saturday, that was my job.” She also drove the big tractor as they collected hay.
The most difficult challenge he has faced in his life was the unexpected loss of his father. Calvin Carter was in a telephone truck when he was t-boned by another vehicle.  The truck was struck with such force, it was tipped onto its side, the boom falling on top of the truck, killing Calvin.  He was only 16 when he lost his father.  After a brief silence, Mrs. Carter softly spoke up, “I’m gonna tell you, he was a good kid.  Not all mothers say that, but he always listened to me. I never yelled at him, but I would talk to him and he always made good decisions. He was like his father more so than me, as far as, you know… but he talks like me!” Kevin says his wife would agree, saying he talks too much.

             Linda Carter holding her wedding picture

Kevin and Sandy dated the entire six years he was a student at Shepherd, getting married two weeks after he graduated. Sandy was the “breadwinner” until Kevin started his first job.  She worked as a phlebotomist in Winchester, then as a beautician, and back to a phlebotomist. When I asked Kevin what the best day in his life was, he paused a moment before saying “Well, I guess you could say there’d be two of them. When my kids were born.”  Then he quickly added, “Of course, I’m not knocking my marriage.  That ranks right up there too!” 
The next time you see your mailman delivering mail in his blue jeep, give him a friendly wave hello, or stop in to see him at the Cruise-in. He’d love to tell you about his cars, local history, or music.
Kevin Carter

Painting of Rock Spring 
Remains of Rock Spring