Island Stories : Florrie's Mailbox
Written By : Patrick Duffy
RED The Island Storybook Magazine
VOL 28 2022
Everyone in the Fort Augustus area knew Florrie, or at least had heard of her. Anyone traveling the road between Fort Augustus and Charlottetown from the 1920's to the 1970's would have encountered her at one time or another as she frequently traveled by foot, or hitchhiked, to town.
Florrie was a regular contributor to The Guardian's Letter to the Editor's section, and was never afraid to share her point of view on politics, injustice or anything else she felt needed to be corrected. Further, she was quite accustomed to attending to matters right in her own backyard, like the time I raised her hackles.
My younger brother, Tommy, our cousins, Gregory and Brian Duffy and I were searching the ditches for beer and pop bottles which we would turn in at Mitchell's Store for a refund. With our hard earned cash we would purchase some candy and consume all of it on our way home so none of our numerous siblings would be able to share it with us.
Florrie, like everyone else, had a mailbox at the end of her lane, but hers had a peculiar feature; she had placed several stones inside it. There was no flap on the front of it, and to keep her letters from blowing away, she used the stones as weights to secure her incoming and outgoing mail. This made perfect sense; however, for us it just added another layer of intrigue to this lady about whom we had heard so many remarkable stories.
Now, those stones sitting in the mailbox seemed to me a dare to remove them. I quickly scanned the scene. There was no sign of Florrie anywhere and I knew removing them would certainly annoy her, creating an exciting reaction which would produce yet another "Florrie Story." Before I knew it, my hand flew up and swiped the stones from the mailbox All four of us immediately broke into a furious sprint out of harm's way. It was as if I had crept up on a sleeping dragon and slapped it in the face, and escaped before it realized what had happened. At a safe distance we looked back and felt we had gotten away with the perfect crime, then merrily went back to collecting bottles. Unfortunately, we weren't nearly as clever as we thought we were.
A week later the four of us, along with our siblings and cousins, were picking potatoes for our Uncle Gerard and our grandfather, "Old" Pat Duffy, in a field across the road from Florrie's house. A group of us were on the back of Gerard's truck as we headed up the road to the field. As we started out, we saw Florrie shuffling down the road towards her lane. As luck would have it, she reached the entrance to the potato field just as Gerard stopped to open the gate. We all giggled as we knew an encounter with Florrie always held the possibility of a bizarre outcome.
As Gerard departed the cab he gave Florrie a gracious greeting, "Good morning, Florrie! How are you this morning?"
"What are you up to today?" replied Florrie. "Oh, we're trying to get these potatoes dug and in the cellar while the weather is good," responded Gerard.
Florrie's eyes then scanned through the crew of pickers on the back of the truck. No one dared say a word or even move for fear an evil curse would be placed upon them.
"Who is in the back of the truck?" she demanded.
"Oh, just some local kids to pick potatoes," Gerard vaguely answered.
Then terror struck! As Florrie cast an eye over us her gaze suddenly lit upon me. It was as if a huge searchlight had found me and there was no escaping it. She swiftly raised her cane and menacingly pointed at me.
"Who is that young fella, right there?" she bellowed.
Gerald, not being sure where her crooked walking stick was pointing, asked her to identify who she meant.
She took a few steps closer to the truck. My heart was pounding while her cane flailed about ominously and she once again pointed me out.
"Oh, that's one of Charlie's boys," Gerard informed her.
"Well," threatened Florrie, "you tell him, the next time he takes stones out of my mailbox, there will be sparks flying from the seat of his pants!"
Sparks! My mind raced. Florrie was going to electrocute me if I ever touched her mailbox again! I silently resolved never to do that. I'd even fill her box with stones if she wanted me to. In fact, I'd never even walk on her side of the road again. My mind filled with ideas of remorse and penance.
Then Gerard saved me!
"Okay Florrie. I'll pass that on. You have a good day, now."
Florrie huffed and waddled off, encased in her many layers of clothing. Gerard hopped back in the cab and headed towards the potato field. As soon as we arrived, I jumped off the truck, grabbed a potato basket and got as far away from Florrie as I could. I never did touch her mailbox again nor did I even think of schemes to antagonize her. That encounter was enough for me!