Ernestine Goodall, a retired teacher, has lived on Mel Mara Drive in eastern Oxon Hill for 26 years. In all that time, she can't recall seeing any mailman other than Ira L. Day bringing letters and packages into the neighborhood.

In this quiet enclave where change comes slowly, she thus was surprised recently to see a new face at her mailbox.

Day, 59 years old and suffering from arthritis, has given up the beat that covered more than 400 homes and businesses. He traded his walking job for the less taxing task of being a vehicle maintenance operator for the U.S. Postal Service at the Oxon Hill office.

"I've gotten older," he said. " . . . Walking up and down those hills got to be tougher and tougher."

But, he added, "I do miss my people. They were like a big family, and some of the neighborhood kids I watched grow up. The other day, a young lady came up to me and said, 'You don't remember me because I moved away when I was younger. But I remember you when you were our mailman.' "

"He was a perfect gentleman, a very soft-spoken man," Goodall said of Day. "When the snow was bad, he would carry the mail right up to our door."

A neighbor, Shirley Baker, said she was upset when Day told her he was changing jobs. "He was a very honest individual. He asked about my kids, and I asked about his. I'd go up and meet him at the mailbox, and we'd chat. Everybody here liked him; maybe that's why he stuck around so long."

Day thinks as highly of the neighbors as they do of him. Often when the snow was especially deep, making a downhill drive treacherous, he said, he could leave all his mail at the home at the top of a hill. The neighbors would then walk to get it. And on hot summer days, Day would find cold drinks waiting for him in many mailboxes.

Day, a District native, went to work for the Postal Service on the Oxon Hill route 20 years ago. He remembers when some of Oxon Hill's roads were still dirt.

"Some of the homes have been out there for quite a few years," he said. "Mostly professional people lived there, and so did lots of Air Force officers."

Although the area is now the focus of projected growth including the massive and controversial PortAmerica complex, the neighborhood Day covered, which runs along Oxon Hill Road to the River Ride Estates, remains much the same.

"I don't think there's been a new home built on Balmoral Drive East in 20 years," he said.

Day said he prefers working outdoors and around people. "I like meeting people," he said. " . . . I served three apartment buildings on Indian Head Highway where senior citizens lived. Getting the mail was their big event for the day. They were happy even to get junk mail. I think they really just liked having someone to talk to."

While dogs aren't known to be the postman's best friend, Day said he's never had any altercations despite the many dogs on his route, including a few pit bull terriers.

"Because the people knew me, they'd keep the dogs in," he said.

In his career, he's been unable to deliver the mail only once, he said. That was during last winter's deep snows. He missed two days. "Even after the snowplows went through, it was very tough," he said. "The snow was piled so high around the mailboxes because the plows had pushed it to either side."

Goodall said her dog, a 5-year-old gray schnauzer named Tiffy, has also noticed that Day no longer brings the mail. "Barking at anyone coming to the door is Tiffy's big thing, especially delivery people," she said. " . . . But she never barked when Mr. Day came.