Letter carrier’s book of short stories brings Minneapolis neighborhood to life

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There are still some neighborhoods in the Twin Cities where everyone knows the mailman, and the mailman knows everyone. That’s the basis of Vincent Wyckoff’s book of stories, “Beware of Cat.”

The book, released early in 2007, was nominated for a Minnesota Book Award last month. Wyckoff, a letter carrier at the Nokomis branch in south Minneapolis, describes the book as a collection of stories he accumulated during 15 years of serving the same route. The stories are about people, their neighborhood and, as the title suggests, their pets.

“The thing I’ve come to learn over the years is there are really amazing people around us with interesting stories,” Wyckoff said. “I wanted to collect some of them, put them down and show a certain community, south Minneapolis, over a period of time.”

Wyckoff, who wrote an unpublished Vietnam War novel before beginning work on “Beware of Cat,” submitted his stories to the Minnesota Historical Society. Its response was to ask for more.

Wyckoff had no trouble obliging. He wrote during his lunch breaks, and quickly assembled a collection of 20 stories he “had been telling around the dinner table for years.”

After a much lengthier editing process, “Beware of Cat” hit bookstores’ shelves last March.

The book has sold well, Wyckoff said. It drew praise from critics in both metro-area daily newspapers, and it landed on the prestigious Minnesota Book Awards’ list of nominees in the category of Memoir and Creative Nonfiction.

Though “Beware of Cat” is set in the state’s biggest city, Wyckoff exposes the small-town charm of Minneapolis’ neighborhoods. In 15 years of walking the 500-house route, Wyckoff “got to know every single person” in one way or another, be it their first and last names or their family pets.

“I’ve talked to their kids when they first start kindergarten, and years later they’ve invited me to their graduation party,” Wyckoff said. “There are a lot of elderly, retired people on the route, and a lot of these people were home every day, so I would see them a lot and talk to them.

“It’s kind of like an extended family, you get close to these folks. They open up to you and start sharing with you.”

And that, in turn, leads to some interesting stories.

Not surprisingly, the book has been a hit with two groups in particular. One is Wyckoff’s union brothers and sisters, including those at Branch 9.

“Letter carriers will come up and say things like, ‘That happened to me too,'” Wyckoff said. “Obviously, the specifics of the stories are different, but I think there’s a sort of bond between carriers that we all can relate to these things.

“I’ve had other workers come up – street-maintenance workers, plumbers – and relate to dealing with the public, dealing with the community or working outside.”

The other group of fans draws from the people who figure prominently in “Beware of Cat,” the folks from his old route. After going to a Christmas party in the neighborhood, Wyckoff said the enthusiasm still hasn’t died down.

“There were so many people there waiting for me to show up,” he said. “They all had my book, and they all wanted me to sign it. I’m not on that route anymore, but they wanted to see me and talk to me about the book. It’s about a neighborhood, and the whole neighborhood has just been celebrating who they are in this book, and it’s been really fun.”

Michael Moore edits The Union Advocate, the official newspaper of the St. Paul Trades and Labor Assembly. Used by permission. E-mail The Advocate at: advocate@stpaulunions.org