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Yvonne Abraham

In snowbound Somerville, mail carrier deftly delivers goods

Tim Young has been delivering to the same neighborhood in Somerville for more than two decades.Yvonne Abraham/Globe Staff

SOMERVILLE — Stir-crazy was three levels of insane ago.

We’re imprisoned by walls of whiteness. Our children don’t seem to go to school any more. Our socks are perpetually damp. Much like our Third World trains, we’ve been broken by this winter of discontent. Anything that runs the way it’s supposed to feels like a miracle.

Tim Young knows this better than most. The Somerville mail carrier, 48, has been delivering to the same neighborhood of pretty Victorians and apartments by Union Square for more than two decades, and never does he feel more valued than at a time like this.

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“People seem surprised and happy I’m working,” he said, picking his way along what used to be a sidewalk on Tuesday afternoon. “They shovel, and we get through, and it’s like a little reward.”

Most of the year, Young reckons, people figure they could probably do his job. But with pavements reduced to narrow trails barely wide enough for a man and his mailbag, giant icicles hanging from roofs and ready to impale, and street corners turned to pants-soaking slush, he draws his share of awe.

In Somerville, the misery has hit especially hard. On Wednesday, the mayor announced school would be canceled for the rest of this week. There are a lot of desperate people in that city right now — so desperate that a mail carrier toting credit card bills and catalogs takes on a heroic sheen.

Like all of us, people here have shoveled plenty; it’s just that there’s nowhere to put the stuff. And so Young squeezed himself and his bag down the luge-track sidewalks, making his way through his route, designed as a series of loops. Normally he’d do one loop, move his truck, then start the next one. But there were precious few parking spots, so the truck stayed put, and Young did a bunch of perilous trips back and forth to load up his bag.

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Massive snowbanks mean he can’t just cross a street when he wants to: He has to go to the end and walk around. On Pleasant Street, that meant 44 steps to get to the other side, as opposed to 10. Extra steps are the enemy. Sometimes, Young attempts the 10-step route anyway, barreling over a bank. He always regrets this.

“Every so often I get aggravated and try it,” he said. “Then I sink down to my knees in it.”

Ice is the enemy, too. It lurks below and above. Young has fallen, of course. His most spectacular spill was in December 2013, when he slipped on some stairs. He delivered mail on a broken ankle for a week afterward. Being careful doesn’t always help, because it is impossible to look up and down at the same time, even as one sorts through the junk mail and Amazon packages. Which, by the way, Young does with bare hands. You can’t separate all of those pesky bits of paper with gloves on.

Still, if faced with a choice between this frozen-over hell and mid-July heat, he’ll take the ice, thank you.

“You can get through this with common sense,” he said. “If it’s 94, everything is labored. Your body says ‘Stop.’”

Young’s goal is to empty his bags as quickly as possible. And so he does some things that ordinary souls might balk at: loading himself up with three trips’ worth of letters and packages; slowly stepping sideways up snow-covered stairs; taking a steep, icy driveway with alarming speed. He just wants his cargo out of his hands and into yours.

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“That house could have been on fire,” he said, after dropping off a box he’d been schlepping for 15 minutes. “There could have been 12 feet of ice. That package was getting delivered.”

He skipped only two addresses Tuesday: There was no room to get by a hemmed in pick-up in one driveway, and at another house, there was no sign of the stairs that once led to the mailbox.

Not bad. At the end of the day, Young was happy, and not just because he finally got to take off his wet socks. He’d emptied his boxes, despite the freeze, stacking them neatly inside each other.

“There’s not a more beautiful sight,” he said.

How about pavement?


Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at abraham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeAbraham.