December 13, 2015

The Feet of a Mailman - Looking Back

How many miles? Seriously. If we could add them up, if there there had been a way to keep track, just how many miles had Papa's feet carried him? Enough to go across country? Enough to travel around the globe? Enough to get to the moon?

I used to wonder things like that. You see, my Papa has been a mailman for 36 years. 36! And it's true he drove parts of his routes, but the majority of his career entailed him pounding the sidewalks with his own two feet. Door to door... Box to box...

His career began by taking parts of other carrier's routes - naturally the worst parts. After this training period came his very own route, one he would carry for the next 24 years. He had two other routes during his career, the last of which included the Valley Plaza Mall, delivering to the stores - all indoors! This carried with it a most wonderful perk - Air Conditioning! I will explain why this was such a benefit in a moment.

I remember when he got the job all those years ago and wondering if that meant he would deliver mail to our neighborhood. (It didn't.)

I remember my mom teaching me to iron, and among the clothes I learned to iron, his uniform shirts. Sometimes, just for fun, I'd iron in military creases.

I remember him getting up at what I considered an ungodly hour to head off to his station to case the mail before starting his route.

Taken during Papa's lunch break
 left to right: my brother, Tim, my Papa, my sister, Bethany, and me
I remember going with my mom to bring him his lunch and how cool it was to see him in the middle of his day.

I remember occasionally running into people who lived on his route, how they greeted him like a friend and how he seemed genuinely glad to see them. Later he'd tell me, "That was Mr So-And-So. He lives at Such-And-Such an address. I was convinced he knew everyone's address by heart.

I remember when he became editor of the branch newsletter and the hours we spent each month folding, stapling, and labeling those newsletters prior to mailing. I also remember proudly reading his article "From the Editor-Guy" published each month. He is a fantastic writer!

I remember all these things, but what I remember most, though I never told him, is thinking about the beating his feet were taking.

My old hometown, Bakersfield, can get a little warm in the summer, in the same way my oven gets a little warm when I set it to broil at 600 °F.

Papa's feet, encased in heavy leather boots all day, must have felt like they were on fire as he walked for miles under the blazing sun, carrying a satchel of mail that weighed as much as a small child.
Sometimes when he came home he'd ask us to bring him a beer, and a pan of cold water into which he could plunge his aching feet. Then while sitting there, soaking his tired toes, he'd take a rag and black shoe polish and shine his boots up so they'd be ready for the next day.

Shiny or not, boots can only take so much before they give out, and his boots eventually had it. The sole had separated from the leather upper and flapped up and down with every step. New boots weren't cheap, and money was scarce. Papa was, after all, providing for his large family and he tended to put things like food, a house payment, and other such necessities ahead of new footwear for himself. What then was he to do?

Pop is a pretty resourceful guy. A fistful of rubber bands did the job admirably. Yes, they had to be replaced frequently, but they held his boot together for longer than he or my mom would like to remember. That rubber-banded boot cannot be entirely forgotten, however. There is a Letter Carrier group photo that clearly shows a lighter colored "something" wrapped around the dark boot of a young carrier who just happened to be in the front row.

He did eventually get a new pair of boots, and then another... One pair came to him in an unexpected manner. He was delivering mail to a trailer park when he noticed smoke coming from a laundry room. When he looked inside he saw flames coming from a plastic trash can (probably caused by a discarded cigarette) and no one else around to see what was happening. He immediately took action and to avoid burning his hands, kicked the can out of the building. His boot was covered in melted plastic. The laundry room wasn't damaged. No one was hurt. And the trailer park gratefully bought him a new pair of boots.

Despite the headaches and foot-aches that came with the job, he seemed to enjoy getting to know people on his routes. He would start conversations by saying, "I've got a dumb joke for you. Are you ready?"

He was always watchful of the elderly he delivered to, checking in on them to make sure they were doing alright.

He once gave aid to a baby who had managed to get the end of a metal hanger stuck in her mouth, piercing her tongue. She was bleeding profusely. Taking the baby from her frantic mother, he quickly pulled the hanger out and handed the little one back to her mom. The next day he heard the doctor said the baby would be fine.

He really did care for and take care of the people he served every day.

Every day for 36 years...

And now he is retiring. Now he will no longer have to pound his feet (and knees, and back...) for hours everyday. Now he starts something new.

And to him I have something important to say:

Thank you, Papa. 
Thank you for all those hours, all those years you gave to take care of us.
Thank you for choosing to have us kids instead of a BMW.
Thank you for working even when you were sick or sore, hot or cold.
Thank you for putting up with the hard parts of your job.
Thank you for encouraging us and teaching us to look for creative solutions to problems - even if it involved rubber bands.
Thank you for making sure we had food in our bellies, a roof over our heads, and a shoes on our feet.
Thank you for talking to us about life and teaching us how to look at both sides of an issue.
Thank you for taking us to church.
Thank you for trips to the beach, music in our house, and dogs in our life.
Thank you for showing us what hard work looks like.
Thank you for showing us what it means to take pride in your work and give it your all.
Thank you for being our Papa.
I love you.

Happy Retirement!!!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Happy Retirement sir and thank you for all you service, and that's more than the postal service. God Richly Bless You and Yours!