New postmaster in Lineboro feels right at home on the job

January 27, 1993|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,Contributing Writer NORTH -- Manchester * Hampstead * Lineboro

Lineboro 21088 is not the title of a new TV show. It's the post office and ZIP code for the small North Carroll hamlet where Maryland blends into Pennsylvania and straddles the Mason-Dixon Line.

The Lineboro post office is in the former front parlor of Joyce O'Donnoghue's home at 4225 Main St. It is hard for the visitor to imagine that this is some far-flung tentacle of the U.S. Postal Service, but it is, right down to the FBI's Most Wanted posters thumbtacked to a bulletin board and a notice announcing a chicken potpie supper planned by the Lineboro Volunteer Fire Department next month.

Mrs. O'Donnoghue operates what is known as a contract station, a fancy definition for a post office that provides basic postal services and is located in a private home or store.

"It's economical for the Postal Service to have such contract stations rather than maintaining separate buildings in an area where the demand is limited," says Jack Francis, the Manchester postmaster who supervises the Lineboro post office.

There are very few contract stations left in operation in Carroll, says Mr. Francis, and the Lineboro contract station may be a vanishing breed as post offices and functions are merged to fit budget crunches.

Mrs. O'Donnoghue's Main Street residence stands out from the other neat brick-and-clapboard houses that line the street by the presence of two large mailboxes out front by the side of the road, a U.S. flag flying from a pole, and a Postal Service logo in the window.

A couple of steps lead up to a porch where a liar's bench shares

space with a couple of rockers that are turned up for the season, and firewood is carefully stacked to ward off the winter winds that blow through town. The windows are lined with old-fashioned lace curtains and the door gently squeaks as it is pulled open.

The room is taken up with a wall of postal boxes that rent for $2 a year.

On the same side is the postal window, an old door that has been cut in half and fitted with a latch.

A bell that must be tapped summons Mrs. O'Donnoghue, a 27-year-old mother of three who, here, is the postmaster.

She cheerfully greets her patrons and asks them how things are going. She admits that in the beginning it took her a while to get to know the names and faces of her customers.

Mrs. O'Donnoghue was born in Hagerstown. After graduating from Hagerstown Junior College she went to work in Baltimore as a medical secretary. While she was living in the city, she met her future husband, Michael, 34, a researcher at the University of Maryland in Baltimore.

"We got tired of the city and kept moving farther and farther out. First it was Randallstown and then our real estate agent showed us this house and we feel in love with it," she says. "We really didn't expect to wind up here, but moved to Lineboro in 1988."

When the postal operation came up for bids in 1991, she and her husband decided that they would go for it. She was tired of driving to Baltimore every day and wanted to stay home with her three children, yet wanted to have a source of income.

"This was a perfect alternative," she says with a smile. "I can work in the home and be with my kids at the same time.

"We didn't mind giving up the living room, even though it makes the house smaller," she says. In trade, she only has to walk into her living room to get to work.

"My hours are 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., and on Saturday we are open only 'til noon," she says. "The mail arrives from Manchester at 9 a.m., and then I sort it and wait for the customers. By afternoon, it gets pretty slow around here."

George Warner, 66, retired from the R.F. Warner & Sons feed dealers, swings open the door and greets Mrs. O'Donnoghue.

"I like the post office here because it's in town and it's handy," he says as he closes his postal box.

Florence Switalzki and her husband, a retired Bethlehem Steel worker moved here from Essex eight years ago. "I know my mail is safe here," she says. "It's also so nice and pleasant coming in here. We like picking up our mail."

Mrs. O'Donnoghue has a gate between her house and her little office, which is illuminated by one light and has an old-fashioned scale, and a drawer for stamps and postal forms.

"The gate is to keep my children from getting in here," she says with a laugh. "They love getting in here and playing with my cancellation stamp even though they know they're not even supposed to be here."

While the post office doesn't quite qualify as a town gossip center, a fair amount of that takes place as neighbors and friends greet one another at the postal boxes or at the window.

Asked about the Elvis Presley stamp and its popularity in Lineboro, Mrs. O'Donnoghue says, "I had three people here waiting to buy them that morning. I didn't think I'd sell any but wound up selling my initial order of 400. But there were no mobs."

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