ROZET, Wyo. -- Birth announcements, graduation invitations and sympathy cards all represent different phases in our lives. If they're headed to or from Rozet, they all go through Bruce Redfield's hands before being slipped into their numbered boxes.
He doesn't pry, but after 22 years of sorting mail, he knows a birthday card has a different look to it than a wedding invitation.
Each one means more to him than the anonymous number on the post office box where he stuffs them each day because they mark milestones in the lives of people he considers his friends, his family.
The postmaster has been sorting the mail for the past 22 years at the Rozet Post Office. It's a one-man operation in a small town that the decades have left with only a handful of businesses.
Like many other small post offices, Redfield's has faced and escaped potential closure in recent years, something that could sound a death knell for a small crossroads town.
Some would argue that the outpost is just another expense for a business that is drowning in debt.
But each person who comes and goes from the small concrete-walled office is part of the lifeblood of the town.
And the post office is its heart.
After finishing sorting the day's mail late in the morning, Redfield paused for a moment to help a few customers at the small window where he sells stamps and packing materials.
People know that the mail will be in their boxes by 11 a.m. and that he will be there for a quick chat.
"When I came here in 1990, I didn't know a soul," he said glancing outside. "They all let me into their lives. I call them my people."
A beer-delivery truck rumbled up in front of the building and before its driver stepped out, Redfield knew who it was. The driver pushed open the creaky door to the office.
"Hi," she said with a wide grin.
"It's Julie," Redfield exclaimed as he grabbed the woman's mail from the back side of her post office box.
Julie Baysinger is a relative newcomer to the Rozet community, where she moved about 16 years ago. She has been stopping in at least once a week to pick up her mail ever since.
"Bruce was my first friend," she said. "It was tough because I knew no one. But if something important has happened, he knows it."
In addition to Redfield's status as a local information source, the office has been an informal meeting place since its inception.
Rozet lost its general store, hotel and lumber yard long ago. Only a few businesses stand among a small string of homes.
But people who live as far as 50 miles apart on area ranches still consider each other neighbors. They may seldom see each other if not for rubbing elbows when checking their mail in the wall of metal post office boxes, or stepping out of their pickup trucks for a few moments while dropping letters in the box out front.
Redfield's position as a pillar of the tight-knit community is ironic since he doesn't even live in Rozet. For more than two decades, he's been driving from his home in Sundance to work in Rozet.
But despite plenty of opportunities to leave the small town and move to a bigger office, Redfield won't abandon "his people."
"They'd shoot me if I left here," he said nodding toward the blocks of boxes.
The tiny office has more than doubled its size since Redfield took over in 1990, but still it fills the same place in the community it has for more than 100 years.
In an era when the U.S. Postal Service struggles to pay its bills and administrators have threatened to close small town post offices like the one in Rozet to save money, Redfield knows his job depends on the people he now calls friends.
At lunch time, he locked the post office doors and walked next door to Ruff's Bar to eat a chilli burger and fries - special of the day. He knew someone might interrupt his meal, but he doesn't mind.
He was greeted by a hello from a chorus of friends waiting for their meals and from the bar's owner, Norma Ruff.
"Basically, the school, the post office and this place is all that Rozet's got," Ruff said of the possibility of losing the post office. "It would hurt the community big time."
"That it would," chimed in Blake Liesinger as he sat sipping his coffee at the bar. He moved to the area in 1986 and has gotten to know just about everyone.
It is what's inside the building that makes the post office important to the small town. It is the fact that Redfield hand-delivers Ruff's mail every day when he goes to lunch even though nothing in the service's rule book says he has to.
"He's been a godsend to us," Ruff said. "He'll do anything for anybody. He probably knows more about what's going on in Rozet than he does in Sundance."
As the Postal Service changes its standards for measuring post office performance, Redfield knows the 9,800 letters his facility processes each week now mean more than ever.
In addition, he has been encouraging his customers to buy their postage at his small office because his job depends on it, literally.
As Dakota Wells set Redfield's meal in front of him, he noted that he remembers the recent high school graduate from when she was a small child coming into the post office.
In fact, he sorted her graduation announcements and stuffed them in her neighbors' post office boxes.
The milestone is nothing out of the ordinary for Redfield.
He's watched dozens of children grow, leave, come back and raise families. He's become friends with just about everyone. He's watched a few die.
"We lost one man not long ago," he said. "You feel for 'em. You grieve with 'em."
That makes Redfield more than a mail man, it makes him a friend.
After lunch, Redfield reopened his office and headed for the back, where he will sort a few packages, wait for more customers and chat with the ones who blow in with the wind.
As another rancher walked through the door to get his mail, the post master leaned out of the small window and nodded his head.
"How are you today?" he asked with his usual smile.
"Good. You, Bruce?" the man replied as his keys jingled into the lock on his box.
It is a scene that happens dozens of times each day, as it has for 108 years.
It is the sound of the pulse of a community.
A pulse that would fade without the boxes, letters and Redfield.