Miles and Smiles
It’d be an understatement to say Pennie Greene knows her way around northern Mitchell County.
Greene has been a mail carrier for nearly 39 years, and for 30 of those she’s had the same route along N.C. 261 from Bakersville up to the Valley of Roan. Plus, she grew up in Buladean and still lives there with her family.
She’s part of the U.S. Postal Service’s “Million Mile Club” – which is given to drivers with 1-million miles of driving or 30 years without a preventable accident.
“I’ve had mine awhile,” Greene, whose route is between 60 and 70 miles a day, said about her Million-Mile plaque.
Greene’s mother, Dorothy Street, was a social worker and part-time mail carrier on the Buladean route. From time to time, Greene tagged along with her mom to deliver the mail.
Dorothy died in a car accident in the flood of late 1977, when Greene was 19. About a year later, Greene was working for the Mitchell Sheriff’s Department when she stopped in the Bakersville post office and was asked if she’d like to be a substitute driver on the Buladean route.
“I said ‘yeah, I know that route,’” Greene recalled.
Her first day on the job was Dec. 10, 1978. She subbed for six years before going to Franklin to be a full-time carrier. After a year in Franklin, she delivered mail in the Nebo and Lake James area for nine months before coming back to Mitchell County in September of 1986.
“I’ve been on this route ever since,” Greene said.
She travels more than 100 miles a day – she’s currently driving a 2006 Jeep, it’s her third Jeep, but her first with an automatic transmission. She bought it from another carrier in Green Mountain, it had 50,000 miles on it at the time. Now, it has more than 223,000 miles.
Greene said she’s used six different cars over the years, including a 1980 Ford Fiesta, which was cheap on gas. Mail carriers use their own vehicles and USPS provides a “maintenance allowance” to cover repairs, new tires, gas and insurance.
The Bakersville post office has five regular routes, one auxiliary route and six full-time drivers. Typically, it takes Greene four-and-a-half to five hours to complete her route, which covers the hollows off N.C. 261 and runs all the way down Fork Mountain Road to N.C. 226. She also does Beans Creek Road off 226 just north of Fork Mountain Road.
Greene said she delivers to more than 640 families.
First-class mail has dissipated over the years – few people get their paychecks in the mail nowadays – but with the growth of the Internet and online companies such as Amazon, the number of packages Greene delivers has been on the rise.
“Since Amazon started, we’re covered up,” Greene said. “Like yesterday, I had 78 packages. I have 55 today. So it’s averaging from 50 to 80 a day. Years ago, I probably had 20 or 30.”
People get everything in the mail these days, Greene said, including groceries. Amazon has a service called Prime Pantry.
“We’re delivering a lot of Amazon dog food now, 50-pound bags,” Greene said.
Her Jeep is littered with packages, anywhere and everywhere.
“Christmas was a killer with packages,” she said. “Some days I had more than 100.”
She passes time on the route listening to country music on WKYK or to 106.9 The Light.
Greene’s been through some bad snow storms. She recalled one in the late 1980s where there was 40-inches of snow.
“We have to show up (to work),” Greene said about days with bad weather. “The problem back then was sometimes the mail couldn’t get from Asheville (to Mitchell). “There were two days I think we didn’t deliver back in the ‘80s. I loved it back then because when you were going down the road there was nobody out there but you. Now, everybody’s got the four-wheel drive or a front-wheel drive and it’s dangerous.”
Things have changed over the years, Greene said about how the mail used to go out regardless of “rain, snow, sleet or snow.” Now, if homeowners haven’t shoveled the snow in front of their mailbox, mail carriers aren’t supposed to deliver the mail – Greene said she gets to most boxes anyway since her Jeep sits up high.
Greene, who grew up on a farm, has seen and done a lot while carrying the mail. She’s helped a cow and a mare give birth, rescued a calf that was stuck in the mud and is even kind enough to feed people’s cats and birds. She’s never been bitten by a dog, but dogs have bitten her Jeep’s bumper.
When checking on a woman in Glen Ayre whose mail hadn’t been picked up for a few days in a spell of bad weather, Greene found the woman, who was older, had fallen and couldn’t get up.
She’s been in one car accident, but it wasn’t her fault. And early in her career she backed into a man while in his driveway – he walked up directly behind her car and she didn’t see him. She was “laid off” for four weeks while the incident was investigated. The man was OK and in the end Greene was cleared of any wrongdoing and came back to work.
She also got married, her husband is Gary, and raised two sons, Jennings and Justin.
Greene’s customers have become like extended family, she said. She remembers names a lot faster than addresses.
“It helps to know people,” she said. “Your local people you’ll always remember. In the last year, I’ve had a lot of people die that, you know, it seems like I’ve been a part of this family. I go to the funeral home pretty regularly because when I got a customer that you’ve normally seen a lot, talked to a lot, you feel kind of connected to them.”
As the miles keep piling up, Greene said she has to decide whether to get a new car or retire.
“I love to try and find somebody to help,” she said. “That’s my goal in life is to try and help people.”