The Southwood neighbors came streaming into a church parking lot Saturday morning to fill a red, white and blue-clothed table with gifts and notes for their beloved mailman.
Atop the table was a mailbox someone made out of a recycled cardboard envelope with an origami package crafted from dollar bills inside. Letters filled the table, one labeled “Kevin” in marker and with “best mailman ever!!” written beneath it.
About 100 neighbors gathered for the potluck brunch to send off Kevin Normand, their longtime mailman, who retired this month after 31 years with the U.S. Postal Service and more than six years with their South Austin neighborhood. They were also celebrating his 57th birthday.
“I’m telling them they’re going way over and above,” said Normand, wearing a blue trucker-style USPS hat and Hawaiian floral button-down. Retirement will give him time to try his hand at health and life coaching, he said, and “there’ll be time for golfing and camping and maybe traveling.”
In a time when many hardly see, never mind get to know, the neighborhood mail carrier, the Southwood neighbors had story after story to tell about Normand.
Nancy Hallmark recalled the flower seeds that Normand would tuck in her mailbox, knowing she was a fellow gardening fan.
Holly Gordon recounted a time when she’d ordered 10 live baby ducks, and after delivering them, Normand stopped by when he was done with the route to check on them.
Janet McCreless remembered the family-friendly flicks that he’d pick up from Blockbuster and leave in her mailbox for her kids and then return for her when she put them back.
McCreless, one of the party organizers, said that when they heard about Normand’s retirement, neighbors knew they had to mark the occasion somehow, to show how much they appreciated and would miss him.
“We couldn’t let him retire without a big send-off,” McCreless said. “He’s too dear to us. Too, too dear.”
Margie Holmes, who lived in the neighborhood for 53 years but recently moved, came all the way from Georgetown to say goodbye to Normand. Holmes recalled that if she was out of town, Normand would make sure to throw her newspapers on her porch so they wouldn’t pile up in the open, and on his days off, he’d plant flowers for her in her yard.
“He’s a special person in my life. He was not only a good postman; he was like a friend,” Holmes said. “The world needs more people like him.”
“I don’t get my mail until 5 (p.m.) and after now,” Jane Lusk lamented to Normand, who was known for his punctuality.
“Uh-oh,” he said. “Guy’s wearing headphones?”
“I don’t know. Haven’t seen him it’s so late,” Lusk said.
“Kevin, did you know that I set my clock by you?” one woman named Mercedes wrote in a guest book. “I know that it is 4:30 on the dot when I hear your truck! You are awesome! You will be missed!”
For as many stories as the neighbors had, Normand had stories as well. One of his customers, who Normand knew was a carpenter, built him a pool deck. Many of them baked him Christmas goodies during the holiday season, and he always knew he could ask any given neighbor for a drink of water or to use the bathroom.
Their friendship was what kept him doing the little things, Normand said, even if it cut into his lunch hour. Do unto others, as the biblical saying goes, he said.
“The other carriers say I spoil my customers,” Normand said. “I don’t know what they mean by that.”