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" … an annual renewal of my relationship with my father, who taught me much worth fondly remembering."

I love visiting my US Post Office. Strictly speaking, it's really our post office, but I feel a deeply personal attachment to the place. My father was a postal clerk for over thirty-five years, and my mom used to bundle us kids up to go fetch him after his shift. We'd enter the back after crossing the loading dock, an entrance reserved for postal employees, or so the sign said, and while I knew we weren't strictly authorized to enter, we were family, so nobody called us out. Quite the opposite, everyone called us in with cat calls (my mom was somewhat of a "babe"). In those days, postal clerks smoked while sorting mail, so the place smelled of oiled wood floor, paper, and sweet cigarette smoke, with maybe a hint of machine oil wafting in the background. The sorting floor was a warren of sorting racks and stacks of boxes. Sometimes, a few crates of baby chicks peeped plaintively in the corner, attracting us kids to poke our fingers in through the air holes because that's what kids are supposed to do. Otherwise, who could call them cute?

My dad always claimed that the USPS was far superior to any other delivery service. "Only USPS employees take an oath," he said, and he took his oath seriously.
Near the end of his career, he worked the front desk, the public face of the operation. He loved that job, though he hated balancing out the cash drawer at the end of the day. He'd sometimes show up late for supper, cursing some circumstance that had left his drawer out of balance. He considered anything but perfection to be a Federal crime, which it probably was. He took his responsibilities seriously. In my teens, I took a job with a drug store and part of my duties included shipping boxes. I'd drive my handy hand truck the two blocks to the post office and wait patiently in line, hoping that the selection would leave me working with my dad. He was always so cheerful, as if he held the finest job in the world. His enthusiasm infected me, who didn't have the finest job in the world yet. I loved visiting his post office.

One of my ancestors was a post master, back in the eighteen oughts, when post master was the sole face of the Federal government in rural communities. The postal service used to do a whole lot more than handle the post (still does!). The buildings were constructed like court houses, solid stone and authoritative, eliciting respect and solemnity. Now, many post offices inhabit former strip mall stores, eliciting about as much visual impact as a 7-11. I still enter them reverently as if entering a temple. I put on my best manners and treat everyone I meet in there with deep respect. This place is a genuine institution, even if the front desk clerks now wear less than an official uniform and listen to crappy country music. Some complain that the USPS has gone to Hell, but I suspect that those complainers create their own purgatories, for we are enjoined to carry our own history and to respect it regardless of the current state of the state.

I always end up mailing our holiday packages on the busiest day of the year. On that day, the local office features a line any Macy's could admire, people largely unfamiliar with the customs of the place. An extra clerk tends to be on duty, directing traffic and dispensing advice about how to avoid the big line. These days, that clerk even carries a hand-held device capable of scanning and stamping and collecting via credit card. This seems like a marvel to me. My dad would not have cottoned any of it, for he was a definite hands-on sort of man. I wait in the line, disliking the self-serve alternative because I need to chat with the desk clerk. I am, by the time I've reached the head of the line, genuinely interested in how the clerk's day might be going. I'm also trolling for some scoop. How's the season turning out? How's your husband? (whom I know delivers the mail in our neighborhood) I'm very likely to gather some noteworthy news before I exit the place. I always leave feeling more human than when I entered, as if I'd passed muster with MY Federal government. Quite an honor! I've interacted with a two hundred and fifty year old tradition and been well-served in the process. Call it my male bonding experience, an annual renewal of my relationship with my father, who taught me much worth fondly remembering.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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