UNIDENTIFIED PILOT: All right, guys. Everybody buckled in tight?
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
We flew in on the mail plane. How cool is that? I'll explain. Last month, I was in Southeast Alaska on a reporting trip. And I had noticed this name on a map - Meyers Chuck, just a little dot on the coast. Well, something about that name caught my imagination and wouldn't let go. And when I found out that Meyers Chuck is off the grid - no roads or cars, just a sprinkling of houses on the water and a post office that's the social hub of town - well, I had to go. So a 15-minute float plane ride later, here we are in Meyers Chuck, splashing down at high tide with the once-a-week mail delivery.
CASSY PEAVEY: Hi. Cassy.
BLOCK: Hey, Cassy. Melissa. Nice to meet you.
That's who we've come to see, Cassy Peavey, the postmistress of Meyers Chuck, which has a wonderful edge of the country zip code - 99903. Today, Meyers Chuck is getting about 90 pounds of mail and groceries.
UNIDENTIFIED PILOT: That is all we have, guys.
STEVE PEAVEY: Well, that's enough.
BLOCK: That's Cassy's husband, Steve Peavey.
S. PEAVEY: Oh, my golly Molly.
BLOCK: He's here on the dock to help Cassy haul the bags and boxes of mail.
S. PEAVEY: Got it, babe?
C. PEAVEY: I think I do.
BLOCK: Steve, in a flannel shirt and suspenders, is 79. Cassy is 74, wearing jeans and a red and black plaid jacket.
C. PEAVEY: But here, you can take this one.
S. PEAVEY: Yeah.
C. PEAVEY: Thanks.
BLOCK: And up they go, up the ramp from the dock and into the tiny post office which is perched on pilings on the rocks. Steve Peavey built it himself with some friends out of cedar two-by-fours. Cassy's been postmistress of Meyers Chuck for 15 years.
C. PEAVEY: I usually sort the magazines and things first and then put the envelopes on top, so.
BLOCK: By now, she could probably sort this mail with her eyes closed, just 18 mail slots for everyone in town.
C. PEAVEY: Kurt Broderson, he doesn't come very often.
BLOCK: Summer's the busy season in Meyers Chuck, when people boat up to their cabins. Maybe 25 people live here then. In the winter, that drops to about five or sometimes even just two, Cassy and Steve Peavey.
C. PEAVEY: Pretty quiet place here today.
BLOCK: When the mail is in and sorted, Cassy hangs the American flag outside.
S. PEAVEY: Good morning.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Hello. Hello.
BLOCK: And that's the cue for folks to come by.
C. PEAVEY: Gosh, Dave, I wish I could say that you had some groceries or some mail or something but you don't have anything.
BLOCK: No mail for Dave Perry - doesn't matter, a visit to the post office is a chance to shake off your solitude, see your neighbors, sit by the woodstove and chat.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: It's my outboard that's given up, the Yamaha, the two-stroke '75.
S. PEAVEY: Dan Pack bought that.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: I know.
BLOCK: You can come to the PO...
C. PEAVEY: And I usually have cookies or cinnamon rolls or cake or something.
BLOCK: ...Grab your mug off the row of hooks on the wall...
C. PEAVEY: Names on the coffee cups. Everybody knows their own. There's a couple of guys that are pretty touchy about people using their cup.
BLOCK: ...Pour yourself some coffee and settle in.
BOB HUNLEY: Seemed like kind of a one-gust storm, you know? It seemed like it had one good gust there yesterday afternoon then just kind of fizzled out after that.
BLOCK: And if, like Gary Nielsen, you ride over to the post office in your skiff...
GARY NIELSEN: There are about like 6 foot seas out there right now.
BLOCK: ...And it's hard for you to climb up on the dock, well, Steve or Cassy will bring your mail down to you.
S. PEAVEY: There you go, Gary.
NIELSEN: Thanks, Steve. See you next week.
BLOCK: Cassy's one rule at the post office - please, no talking about politics.
S. PEAVEY: Yeah. I get talked to every once in a while.
C. PEAVEY: I tell him. I say, you know...
S. PEAVEY: Don't you do that.
C. PEAVEY: No. You stay away from that. Cause I'm pretty much the boss when things happen down there.
BLOCK: We've walked up to the Peavey's cozy home just a few steps up a path from the post office. And as we chat over tea and Cassy's cinnamon rolls, the stories come rolling out about the old days when Meyers Chuck was a busy fishing town filled with characters who had marvelous nicknames.
S. PEAVEY: Pipe Pole Slim. Crackerbox Mack. Wooden Wheel Johnson.
C. PEAVEY: Logger Bill.
S. PEAVEY: Yeah. And then Greasy Ed.
BLOCK: Steve Peavey grew up in Meyers Chuck. He and Cassy moved back together as newlyweds 56 years ago, when she was just 18. They raised their two kids here. Back then, there were no telephones in town. Finally, in the '70s, Meyers Chuck got a phone - just one.
C. PEAVEY: And it was on a tree. It was fastened to a tree. And you'd have to stand in line to make your phone call.
BLOCK: And if that phone happened to ring?
MIKE MEYER: Hotfoot it down the trail to whomever's house it was, tell them to call so-and-so.
BLOCK: That's Mike Meyer, who grew up here in Meyers Chuck. And family legend has it that one of his ancestors gave the town its name. The Chuck part comes from a Chinook word. It means an inlet that fills at high tide.
The folks in Meyers Chuck are used to doing just about everything for themselves. They provide their own power. The Peaveys have a little windmill that spins out on the dock. Others have solar panels. Water is piped down from a lake. The townspeople built the waterline themselves back in the '80s.
C. PEAVEY: One is about a mile of pipeline that comes down by the creek and then forked out to all the houses, which is pretty darn nice.
BLOCK: In its heyday in the 1930s, more than a hundred people lived in Meyers Chuck. There was a store a barbershop, bakery and bar. By the time the Peaveys moved here in 1961, it was smaller but still humming.
C. PEAVEY: We had a little store here. And, of course, the Post Office was here. And there was a fish-buying scow here. It was just really sweet. But it's just slowly, slowly...
S. PEAVEY: Slowly dying, yeah.
C. PEAVEY: ...Yeah, slowly died.
BLOCK: There used to be a school here but it's closed now - no kids. And as much as she loves Meyers Chuck, loves that it's so small and independent, at age 74, Cassy finds herself wishing they could move away. Steve has had a stroke. And she worries about how far they are from medical care. She'd love to spend more time with her kids and grandkids.
C. PEAVEY: I talked about retiring but have kind of changed my mind because I was told if I closed the post office, it would never open again.
BLOCK: Oh, really?
C. PEAVEY: So it kind of puts a little pressure on me but, well, it would be criminal to change it the way it is now.
S. PEAVEY: Nobody around that wants to take it on.
BLOCK: If this post office were to close, people would have to go by boat to get their mail over in Thorne Bay, 11 miles across Clarence Strait.
C. PEAVEY: And 11 miles across the straits here would be impossible so many times in the wintertime.
BLOCK: So Cassy figures she's kind of stuck. Also because Steve, he has absolutely no interest in ever living anywhere but right here in Meyers Chuck.
S. PEAVEY: Hell, I'd be just as satisfied just to live my life out and die, you know, here. I mean, I'm not standing in line. Heck, this is a good place.
BLOCK: You don't think you'll ever leave?
S. PEAVEY: I don't want to, no. Heck no.
BLOCK: All there are some people who manage to live their whole life here, they don't have to move away for health reasons?
C. PEAVEY: No. No. It's never happened.
BLOCK: In the next few weeks, Steve Peavey plans to head out for five weeks of salmon fishing solo on his boat, the Patsy. Cassy will be home. It's the busy season at the post office in Meyers Chuck, Alaska.
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