By job description — crossing guard, organization leader, mailman — they are ordinary people.
But these ever-present characters have a life, interests and history outside the roles for which we know them. And, oh boy, do they have stories to tell.
The postman always says ‘hello’
In 23 years serving 75208, Darrell Matthews has gained quite a few fans. He is neighborhood famous.
The mail carrier is likeable and always friendly, his customers say.
“You can tell he loves his job,” says Gloria Dean of Winnetka Heights. “He is well-liked by everybody.”
Her friends on Haines Avenue often tease Dean for “stealing” their postman, since Matthews’s route no longer includes their house.
“That shows you how much people like him,” Dean says.
Matthews, 48, lives in Grand Prairie with his wife Jacqueline and daughter Cristal, who is a junior in high school. His stepson Malcolm is a junior at Stephen F. Austin State University, and his older daughter LaKeisha is a teacher. He grew up in Oak Cliff, graduating from Skyline High School before serving five years in the Marine Corps.
He started with the U.S. Postal Service 25 years ago, and he has spent the majority of those years pounding the North Oak Cliff pavement.
He says he likes his job, although it can be a beating in extreme weather. Matthews and his colleagues trudged through two feet of snow last February and survived months of 100-plus degree days this past summer to bring us our bills and birthday cards.
But Matthews says he appreciates his customers.
“Some of them make your day,” he says. “Especially if it’s hot and they offer you a cool drink and a place to sit down for a minute.”
Not that mail carriers have time to dally. They must sort and organize mail and stay on schedule to deliver it all before quitting time.
More than anything, Matthews says, he appreciates customers who just call out his name to say “hello.”
Mail carriers walk our neighborhoods and come to the porch every day. Because of that intimacy, they often have glimpses into the personal lives of strangers.
In all his years of delivering mail in our neighborhood, Matthews says he has never encountered an emergency, although he has contacted relatives of elderly customers upon noticing their mail piling up.
He’s friendly with many neighbors, but there’s one thing some of them don’t get: He’s not friendly with their dogs.
Many times, neighbors ask him to “meet” their dogs, pets they consider part of the family.
“I don’t want to meet your dog,” he says. “I’m not trying to be rude.”
But dogs and mail carriers go together like cats and sweaters.
“I’ve been bitten by that dog that ‘doesn’t bite,’ ” he says.
In his free time, Matthews likes to tinker in the garage. He’s a “fix-it guy” who always has a project around the house. When he retires in a few years, he’d like to learn to play the guitar.
The omnipresent neighbor
Even if you don’t know Lybo Buchanan’s name, chances are, you’ve seen her around.
The 64-year-old redhead often rides her bike around her Kings Highway neighborhood. And she attends every neighborhood event, from Oak Cliff Mardi Gras and the Turner House salon series to rezoning hearings and town-hall meetings.
Buchanan grew up in North Dallas and rented in the Lower Greenville area before she and her husband, Lee Kelton, moved to their home on Kings Highway in 1996.
“I decided it was time to buy, and I gave my Realtor a list of things I wanted,” she says. “This was the one that fit the description.”
It is a two-story, four-bedroom house they share with three dogs and a 10-year-old gray parrot named Tasmin. The parrot barks almost as much as the Pomeranian, Miss Morgan.
“My husband is the one who really got me into volunteering,” she says.
Kelton was involved with the North Texas Irish Festival when she met him, and since then, she has served as a board member for that organization.
She threw herself into Oak Cliff neighborhood activities in 2003, during the Oak Cliff Centennial. It spurred her involvement with Oak Cliff Earth Day and the Old Oak Cliff Conservation League.
She has served in many capacities for the league, including member at large, historian and a six-year stint as a board member. She hopes to be elected to another term this year.
“I love all the old houses in Oak Cliff,” she says. “We’re an active community. We know our neighbors, for the most part, and we’re always trying to make the neighborhood better.”
Buchanan served 11 years active duty in the Air Force and 15 years in the reserves before retiring in 1999. She also is retired from Sprint, and she works part-time as an administrative assistant for a small construction company.
By the way, her unique first name comes from her mother, Elizabeth, whose younger brothers couldn’t pronounce her name. Their baby talk nickname stuck, and she named her only daughter Lybo. The elder Lybo pronounced it “LEE-bow,” but Lybo, pronounces her name “luh-BOW.”
Stop in the name of love
Robert White hurries to the middle of Llewellyn on a cold January morning and waves an arm.
“Come on, baby,” he says. And then, “Good morning. It’s cold out here.”
“Uh-huh,” answers the Reagan Elementary School third-grader crossing the street. The boy smiles and says “good morning” as he continues walking toward the school.
White, who is known as “Pop” around our neighborhood, has been the warden of this corner, Melba at Llewellyn, for 18 years.
He started as a crossing guard 27 years ago after retiring from Dallas County Schools. He worked there as a bus driver and maintenance manager for seven years. Before that, he worked at an art gallery and a furniture store. He used to own some rental properties nearby but sold those a few years ago. He and his wife raised 13 kids (eight of whom went to college) in a little house on Tenth Street. They have five grandchildren.
White has trained dozens of other crossing guards.
As he recounts his life story, almost every car and bus driver that passes honks or waves, or both. Sometimes entire carfuls of kids wave excitedly to “Pop” as they pass, all smiles. Even when someone passes without honking or waving, White waves anyway. A few of the kids look crabby as they cross the street to school, but all of them make White happy.
“I love this corner,” he says. “I love these kids.”
Over the past decades, he has watched Reagan students grow up, and some of them now walk their own children to his corner on school mornings.
Kids sometimes come back to visit White at this crosswalk, when they are home from college or just visiting home. He tells stories about them as if they were his own family. One is a dentist, he is proud to say. He laments the sadder stories, such as that of a former student who went to college in Houston, but then got in with the wrong crowd and is now in prison.
White keeps coming back to this corner, morning and afternoon, always with a smile and an encouraging word.
“I have lots of fun,” he says.