As we sat down to Thanksgiving dinner at Springfield Farm on Thursday, I was filled with gratitude for my family. Ours is non-traditional — I have a stepmom and two half-siblings; two of my sons have a stepdad and half-brothers. But nothing is done “halfway” in our family. Life has taught us to love what we’ve been given and we’ve ceased fretting over what might have been. We are happy with what we ARE.
Thursday’s gathering was also a celebration of my Dad and stepmom’s 54th anniversary. It seems strange to call Mary my stepmom, because for all these years, she’s just been Mom. Today, the day after Thanksgiving, I give thanks for Mom and Dad, for my brother and sisters and their families, for my husband, sons and daughter-in-law and for a God whose nature is Grace and Mercy.
And I share with you more of my Dad’s story, “One Man’s Work”.
Dad’s longest employment stretch actually began in 1944 when he was just 15. Dad’s neighbor, Albion Postmaster Cary Davis, hired him part-time at 65 cents an hour to “work the window” at the Albion Post Office, which meant selling money orders and stamps.
“I owe that man my life,” says Dad, pulling out a photo of Davis taken at his boss’ 80th birthday party. Dad would later step into Davis’ empty post, something that pleased his old boss.
Dad’s most thrilling job as a young postal employee was dispatching mail on the trains. The post office hired local people to take bags of mail to the train station at the south edge of town twice a day, seven days a week. The Baltimore and Ohio coming from the east snatched the mail, which was in a bag hung by a hook on a rack along the tracks. When the hired help wasn’t available to do the job, the task fell to the youngest postal employee. It was a pretty exciting assignment for a young fellow.
“I had to learn to throw the mail onto Train 10, through an open freight door, but Train 7 high-tailed it to Chicago, going through town doing about 70 miles an hour, I suppose,” remembers Dad. “The train car had this arm that swung out. That arm would catch that bag and pull it in. If they had mail for us, they’d throw it off. You had to be careful not to be hit by that arm, or by the bag of mail. One time, Mrs. Tucker took the mail down to the trains and got hit by a flying bag of mail and it knocked her right over. Almost killed her. After she got hit by that sucker, she’d stand behind the depot until the train got through.”
When the mail included deposits from Albion National Bank, the young courier had to pack a gun in case anyone figured out he was carrying a valuable package. Davis taught Dad how to use the gun. Though he never had occasion to put it to use, he was armed just in case.
As a young federal employee, Dad was given quite a bit of responsibility. He would substitute on the walking route for Dick Platt every Saturday and whenever Platt was on leave, carrying a leather bag of mail strapped across his chest as he worked the four corners of Albion. He also worked under John Prickett, clerk at the time.
“John taught me a lot. He had me at the window selling money orders and stamps when I was still just a snot-nosed kid. I sorted mail incoming and outgoing, walked town routes. I had to sort all the mail for all those deliveries. I covered the courthouse and downtown in the morning and again in the afternoon. We delivered to them twice a day. The town was divided into four sections. Once I was driving, I delivered parcel post with my car to wherever it had to be delivered.”
Dad spent a lifetime working for the U.S. Post Office, learning the business from the ground up. From clerk and town mail carrier to postmaster to rural mail carrier, he had his finger in every aspect of mail service in the town of Albion.
Davis retired after 20 years as postmaster and Dad took over the post in June,1963, the year President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. A framed document recognizing Dad’s appointment and bearing Kennedy’s signature hangs on his living room wall.
During his watch as postmaster, the post office was moved from West Main to South Orange Street. Dad was responsible for acquiring private property for the new building site. One holdout was local businessman George Russell. Russell’s reticence earned him the privilege of choosing the design for the new building.
“I had two drawings of buildings. One I liked better than the other – it was like the one in Wolcottville. But, I made a deal with Russell to allow him to choose the final design of the post office if he would allow the postal department to buy his property. Of course, he didn’t choose the one I liked, but we got our post office.”
The new post office was dedicated on January 31, 1965.
Dad says he isn’t a leader by nature, so running the post office brought him more headaches than satisfaction. After getting the post office settled in its new location, the task that did him in was “cost ascertainment” – keeping track of what everything cost.
“All I ever got done doing was filling out forms.” remembers Dad. “I had this office, but it got to the point where I didn’t even use it as an office. It was a storage space for stacks of forms. I had to count and weigh every piece of mail that came through the post office, then I had to go out on the walking route and record all that mail. It got to be too much, so I wrote up a request and sent it in to headquarters. I wanted to go back to serving the public like I did when I was walking the town. I transferred to a rural route that had just become vacant, Rural Route 4. I always said I was ‘gifted’ the deal of giving up that job (postmaster) and going into the other one. I was postmaster five years, but I felt like I was born again when I went out the first day on that route.”
Dad claims he wound up making more money as a rural mail carrier than he would have as a postmaster. He kept all his employment records from the postal department, which proved valuable when he retired in 1984 just before his 56th birthday and claimed his federal pension. His postal employment had been interrupted by a three-year stint in the United States Air Force, but the government counted that time. Subtracting a few years working for other employers immediately after his military duty, the federal government recognized Dad for 38 years of civil service.