Del Mar Back Then

Yesterday a stray waft of air brought me a gift. The peculiar scent of the old Del Mar Post Office, a fixture of my adolescence, gently inhaled, expanded to a focused memory so clear I could live it again.

I’d come up from the beach around 4:00, feet gritty with sand against flip flops, and step into the cool interior of that high ceilinged room with its postmaster windows outlined in dark wood. The granite counters at each had softened edges, perhaps worn by all the forearms that preceded mine. Mailboxes stretched toward the back. Ours was not far: P.O. Box 21. Del Mar had no home delivery so the post office was a social center, the faces behind the counters familiar – local residents of long employ.

One of Del Mar’s many post offices was dedicated June 3, 1953. Today the site is Rusty’s Del Mar. Courtesy Del Mar Historical Society

It was here that some of the dramas of my teens took place. I’d see people I knew and people I wished I knew. I’d pick up the usual cards and letters, almost absent now, that came for the family and from my friends left behind in Edmonton and Baton Rouge. On special days, I’d walk slowly back, excitement building, hoping for a letter from a camp-counselor boyfriend, or one vacationing with family. A year later I’d have the same anticipation for letters from the kids I was a camp counselor for myself – addressed to ”Possum,” my camp name. I even received a few over the next year addressed simply to Possum with no box number. The post office was that small.


What was in that scent? A potent brew indeed: sea (always in Del Mar), salt, sand, Monterey Cypress that grew acrossthe street, eucalyptus that lined the south side, sandstone, the bedrock of Del Mar, and open air. There was no Seagrove Park, no cluster of condos at the corner of 15th and Ocean Avenue. There was instead a parking lot on the former and a sandlot baseball diamond on the latter. The parking lot is gone, the sandlot is gone, the post office has moved across the street, the eucalyptus trees are gone and most of the cypress. And I am gone too. But it turns out I can go back into my head and experience it all again vividly. How perfectly wonderful. I have so come to appreciate my nose.