By Jenny Neyman
Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Rick Huddleston delivers mail in Soldotna last week. He retires Friday after a 41-year career in governmental service, with 38 years spent in the U.S. Postal Service. In his 25 years as a carrier in Soldotna, he’s well-known for his cheery whistling and sunny attitude.
There’s catalogs, postcard reminders of dental checkups, bills and the other printed detritus that’s part and parcel to being a named, addressed member of society. Aside from the occasional quirk — wedding invitations, notice of jury summons, a package bearing the results of Internet impulse buying — the arrival of the daily mail is unremarkable, one second inhabiting its slot, the next shuffled off to the trash, filing system, or waiting-to-be-dealt-with pile. As ubiquitous as credit card offers, as autonomous as breathing.
On Friday, Whistling Rick’s 25-year show in a 20-block section of Soldotna will come to an end.
Residents of the section of Soldotna bounded by the Kenai Spur Highway, Sterling Highway and Knight Drive get mail rain or shine, ice or wind, smudged labels or unstuck packing tape, 30 below or 30-foot breakup puddles. Thanks to Rick Huddleston, they also get a tune.
“That man is always whistling. He has never walked in that door not whistling, not once. I don’t think he’s ever had a bad day. I don’t know how that’s possible, but he’s always cheerful. He is exceptionally endearing,” said Autumn Leach, at Planned Parenthood on Redoubt Avenue, which is one of the 75 businesses to which Huddleston delivers mail.
There’s no mystery about the mail in that section of town. It isn’t some unnoticed system operating in the background — out of sight, out of mind, out of earshot. With Huddleston, the arrival of the mail is an event, brief and efficient, yet noticed all the same.
It starts when he pulls up and shuts off the engine. His midheight, midweight frame gets out of the truck — always in his gray slacks and red-and-white-stripe-on-blue jacket, the same blue as his eyes, and almost always with his trimmed gray moustache curved around his pursed lips. Postal customers in the vicinity know their mail delivery is imminent.
“It’s loud. But when I say it’s loud I don’t want that to sound like a bad thing. It’s just, you’re inside your building and you know when the mailman’s here. You can hear his whistling from inside,” said Dawni Giugler, of First American Title on Birch Street.
Orie Moore, of Dr. Justin Moore’s orthodontia office on Binkley Street, likens it to childhood memories of the ice cream truck coming to her neighborhood. The tinny, tinkling notes from the truck’s speaker was a signal to scrounge up spare change and decide what treat she’d order. Now the cascading notes are a last-minute reminder to make sure her envelopes are stamped and ready.
“It’s almost like an arrival, an announcement. With him it’s kind of like that. We hear it, we know he’s
Huddleston whistles while carrying mail to apartments at Laurawood Arms in Soldotna.
coming, he’s going to be here any minute now,” Moore said.
The notes crescendo as Huddleston’s quick steps approach the door, then stop as he enters, replaced with a smile and greeting — always by name — of his customers.
“He makes a point of learning everybody’s name. When they’re new he makes sure he gets their name right away and calls everybody by name,” said Laura West, of First American Title.
“And he kids with us and he picks on us and he makes us feel like family. He’s just a wonderful person, we all feel the same way,” Moore said. “He always does a little extra than just delivering the mail. He seems to know if something’s going on with you, he can tell. He’s observant, he’s caring, he’s a friend to everyone, he really is.”
Huddleston has been delivering mail to the Moores’ office for the entire 25 years they’ve been in that location, and longer than many have been in his delivery area. Households and businesses have come, expanded, downsized, relocated or gone altogether. But the addresses have remained, and Huddleston has been the merry, melodic mailman attending to them since he took up the route in 1985.
There have been vacations, a busted shoulder, a knee operation and other influences within that span that led to brief periods of silence, where just the mail was carried, without a tune. That was more jarring than if delivery was late or packages were misdirected.
“Sometimes when he’s gone we’ll go, ‘Oh, the mail came.’ We didn’t even know when they came. Rick always says, ‘Hi.’ He never just sneaks in and drops off the mail. He always, always makes contact,” Moore said. “And there was a little while when he didn’t whistle, and everyone felt that. It was painful to not hear the whistling and we all thought, ‘Uh-oh.’ As soon as he whistled again it was like the whole world came back. The sun came back, we were all happy again. It was like, ‘Oh, good, wonderful, life goes on.’” Continue reading