Ms. Cecile Mettetal McQueen sent me a letter containing a March 1978 newspaper clipping written by former Johnson City Press-Chronicle writer, Dorothy Hamill. The article dealt with Ms. McQueen's grandfather, Ray Albert Mettetal, who with his wife, Gwendolyn, resided at 1301 E. Holston in Johnson City.
The elder Mettetal was the father of Dr. Ray Wallace Mettetal who practiced in Johnson City for many years and who was my family's primary physician and a good one I might add. He worked U.S. Mail, RFD Route 4 from 1917 until 1949. Initially,he rode a horse carrying the mail in saddlebags, riding over bumpy roads and experiencing a diversity of weather conditions. Later, he purchased a one-horse mail wagon from Ohio, which he used for several years before acquiring an automobile. In those days, carriers had to provide their own transportation, including horses.
Mettetal's first year of work encountered the worst winter ever recorded in the area. One morning, his red bay horse was completely frosted over and was as white as cotton. Ray was so cold he put his gloves over his face and attempted to thaw his frozen eyelashes with his breathe. He later learned that it was 23 degrees below zero that morning.
The body of the mail wagon was metal and originally painted green. The top and sides were canvas so they could be rolled up or lowered depending on the weather. It had glass side windows and a removable windshield. On the sides of the vehicle were the letters: “U.S. Mail, R.F.D.”
Albert's route included Princeton, lower Knob Creek, Austin Springs, Watauga Flats and Piney Grove, a distance of 27.5 miles over crude roads that consisted of mostly cow paths and mud. Later his route was expanded to 40 miles after he purchased a Ford automobile.
Ray would rise about four a.m. to get ready for his route. When he began using the mail wagon, he kept two horses and usually rotated them. His days were often long such that he would not return home until eight or nine o'clock in the evening, which prevented him from seeing his son until Sundays. “I saw more of the people on my route,” he often said, “than I did my own family”
In all the years Ray traveled that route, he came to know the people well by carrying them medicine, notifying them when their cattle got out, handing out candy to the youngsters and other services. He could even tell you what the families on his route planted in the fields.
Ray, often told his family that people “killed me with kindness.” On hot days, he might find slices of cake and a tall glass of cold milk waiting for him in the mail box. In cold weather, he might discover a note inviting him to come in the house and help himself to a bowl of hot soup.
Of all the many experiences of those 32 years, none were more unusual than the time he was called upon to play Cupid. One morning, a man came out to his mailbox and asked Ray he would help him find a woman. Knowing that the man's wife had passed away some time back, Mettetal assumed that he wanted a housekeeper.
Ray asked the man, “What would you be willing to pay her?” “Pay her?” exclaimed his friend. “I want you to find me a wife.” Ray responded with a grin and rode off determined to help the hapless fellow. On that same day, a lady came to the mailbox with some mail and began talking to him.
Ray learned that she was poor, a widow and had to work for a living. Ray told her about the man and asked if she was interested in meeting him. Her answer was a quick, “I am interested.” Ray saw them two days later together heading down the road … to get married.
After 32 years of faithfully delivering the mail, Ray A. Mettetal retired in 1949 due to health reasons. It was time to go to the house and let somebody else deliver the mail.
Cecile said the old mail wagon stood for years on her grandfather's farm, until it was later moved to her father's residence. It eventually ended up at her house. Time eventually took its toll on the old wagon, including a tree that fell on it, heavily damaging it. Even though it is beyond restoration, she cannot bring herself to throw it away. It brings back so many memories for her.