Max Cash

by Mickey Strickland

Originally Published in The Groundhog

Volume 5, Number 11, February 1988


Max Cash retired from the U. S. Postal Service on Feb. 3, 1988, after 36 years of continuous service. He has seen the rural mail route grow from 43 miles in length to 73 miles, and watched the landscape change almost as much as he has seen the seasons come and go.

"Not snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds." -- Inscription on main Post Office, New York, N.Y.

Max began the mail route as an appointee of U. S. Representative Albert Rains. He was 27 years old, and was living with his wife Roberta and family in the house near Moon Lake that has been home for over 40 years. Max and Roberta had purchased the two acres for their home from a member of the Moon Lake Club, a group of people from Gadsden who owned 80 acres in and around Moon Lake upon which they built summer homes. Max's father, Albert, was caretaker for the club, and through his efforts the lot was obtained.

The Moon Lake Club consisted of two men, D. C. Wadsworth and Charlie Shepard. Later, Louie Shepard, brother to Charlie and a Mr. Akins bought into the group. Dr. Amos Gipson joined later and former lieutenant governor J. C. Inzer bought into the organization. Each member had a lot where he built his home. The rest of the land was owned by the group as a whole. Moon Lake provided fishing, and the pines and hardwoods covering the area provided scenic beauty and solitude.

Max's family grew with his mail, route. Anita, Larry, Bruce, Philip, Susan, Neal (now deceased) and Ann made up the close-knit group in which each child was special and learned early the virtues of self-reliance, spirituality and education. 'Our parents were always there for us,' Susan Hooks, Director of Camp Skyline, reflected. "Daddy would always take us anywhere we wanted to go and participate in any activity as long as it would improve us.' We did a lot of things together out of doors.'

Max worked with his father who was a well-known carpenter and rock mason responsible for many lasting structures in and around Mentone. After he and Roberta married, he worked with a construction firm which employed her father as a superintendent. "I would see Mr. York riding by and putting mail in the boxes and saw the good part of a mail carrier's job, and it was a job I wanted to do," Max remembered when he first wanted to be a mail carrier. "Riding around the country in the daytime and it sunny and seeing the Spring, Summer and Fall. I didn't see the hard part, the winter work!"

Max began the route in a 1949 black Ford, and in those days dirt roads outnumbered paved ones. "There was always someone nearby to help me out if I got stuck or slid off in a ditch," Max told of the early trips around the mountain countryside, "and it was usually a tractor that pulled me out. Now, it's usually a four-wheeled drive. I got Sam Whatley to help me this winter, but that is the first time I ever had to use a wrecker," he continued. "I could always count on help when I needed it."

His next vehicle was a brand-new Ford pickup--"about a '53. You didn't have all that much mail then," Max told of' how things have changed. "l could carry all I had in the cab of the truck. I had probably two or three bundles of mail and three or four packages ordinarily. Now, we average 12 to 15 bundles of mail each day, and 4 to 6 "boxholders a week." The "boxholder" mail is such a good way to advertise that many more businesses are taking advantage of it." When Max began, there were 165 mail boxes which served 247 families. This year, the route has about 400 mailboxes and 440 families. In earlier times, if the mail route did not go to a family's house, they would get their mail in someone else's box who did live on the route.

Max has two route books which belonged to Mr. York who carried the mail for many years. There is no date on one of the books, but it is estimated it was kept sometime around the Depression era. It reads like a "Who's who" of mountain families, and, through it, we are able to gain insight into not only the mail service of the time, but the family units, friendships, deaths and moves of the rural people.

D. L. Jones had box number 1. W. W. Warren was marked out, and Mr. Perry took his place. Many people will remember names such as A. T. Sudderth, F. B. Freeman and John N. Crow. There was Dolph Young, Paul Crow and the J. L. Nail place became Miller's Store. Riverside Hotel, now a part of Camp Skyline, was box number 12. The Hurons got their mail there, then Mrs. Cay, John Walker, Willie Walker and Mrs. Robert Genovar all used the Riverside box. Mrs. N. J. Richey got her mail at C. C. Ansley's. The Mitchell family owned Riverdale Hotel at that time: R. E., Elenor, Roberta and Louise. Now, the resident family is Rob Hammond's for that is where Camp Laney was built.

There was a Powell's Store, and the family of Jess Kirby which included Emma, Mae, Joe, Frank, John Henry, Lela Belle, and Tinie. John Lusk got his mail with them also. There was the family of J. B. Crow with Maggie, Erskine, Leonard, Beatrice, Mabel, Grace, Mary Lee and Edna Forest who shared the same box number, 36. In later years, Mabel was to marry Frank Kirk and the young couple also received their mail in that same box, but the number was changed to 40. The Kirks went away for many years to live and to rear a family before returning to the mountain to build a home and retire.

The names in the weathered book are like pieces of a hand-made quilt--each unique and yet a part of the whole pattern of life here. Win(d)ward Inn, Clara Moorman, Prop, the book reads, and W. P. Wester, 38, with Mary, Ollie, Arizona, Berta, B. C., S. 0. and Estelle. There is mention of Montgomery Wright at the Millsaps and W. V. Wilson at Shortridge. Box 44 was the Shrader family: Erskin, Sadie, Agnes, Theodore, Pauline, Averil, Willard, Milford and Herbert.

There are notations that are mysterious such as "Smith, Sumpter, Sky Hook." There are entries of historical significance such as "Howard, Box 49, River-park or Alpine Club." This was the name of the community begun by Col. Milford Howard who devoted a good portion of his life to the development of the area at Alpine and to the betterment of the standard of living of many citizens. Probably his most lasting monument is Howard's Chapel, or as it is now known, the Sally Howard Memorial Chapel which is near DeSoto State Park. Col. Howard had his ashes interred in a huge rock that is a part of the structure.

Listed also is the Cragsmere Club, which was the former property of individuals who ran the gamut from a freed slave and his family to a state representative. Dr. Dowling, Dr. Berry and Dr. Elliot all received mail on the rural route, and Dr. Berry established a year-round residence.

There were names like Libby, Shigley, Millers, Gifford, Crow, Wester, Biddle, Strickland, Huron, Jones, Matheny, Lowman, Sudderth, McNew, Kirby, Smith, McCurty and Henry Mason. The names of all those who were served by the route are too numerous to mention, but the partial listing above gives an indication of the heritage of the people we know today, and a glimpse of the names who are no longer with us.

"One of the hardest times I ever had delivering the mail was in 1960 when we had that big ice storm which put us without power for 18 days." Max recounted some experiences during his years as Mentone's postal delivery man. "I went to a meeting of mail carriers years ago, and we were told that we were the nearest thing to a representative of the United States Government that most people would ever see, and for us to treat people right and to help them any way we could and let them have a good opinion of the United States government. If they needed a gallon of milk, take it to them. Times have changed now, but I remember picking up Mr. John York and giving him a ride with his 100 pound sack of feed and keeping an eye on things for others." Max told the story of Mr. Carlton Wheeler, an elderly gentleman who lived alone over near Lahusage Lake. He asked Max to contact members to Mr. Wheeler's family if the mail was ever to be left in the box until the following day. He gave Max a list of phone numbers and five dollars to make the calls should it become necessary.

Sure enough, the mail accumulated over a weekend, and Max knew something must be wrong. He could hear noises from inside the rock house, but could not get the man to answer the door. Max immediately called his wife Roberta, who kept the numbers handy. Help was dispatched and Mr. Wheeler was taken to a hospital where he was diagnosed as having had a stroke.

I have enjoyed the route," Max reminisced, "and I am going to miss throwing up my hand at people and miss seeing them and the whole community every day, six days a week for 33 years. I'll miss being able to see all of the countryside every day and as my home was in the middle of the route, I could come by for a warm dinner, and I have really enjoyed that."

Max intends to "enjoy retirement and to travel to visit the children and to see part of the country." Max Cash has been such an important part of the life of our rural community that it's difficult to picture him not coming by each day to bring tidings from other places. From earliest times to the present, the coming of the mail was one of the most important parts of the day, and to see his familiar car and friendly greeting was something one could depend upon.

This loyal courier may have achieved the "swift completion of his appointed rounds," but there is no one who has ever lived on a Mentone Rural Route who will not remember his dedication and kindness, and who will not wish that this was not the end of an era.


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