Eight years after retirement, I received my first standing ovation at the post office. By the time Tuesday afternoon rolled around at the Cliff Avenue Post Office in Eagan, Minnesota, I had accumulated 22 parcels due out by the end of the business day. This was my last load of the year, as I was shutting down business so I could spend the next two weeks in California with family.
On Monday, I had lugged the packages all the way inside the door, only to count 30 customers waiting in line. I turned around and made a quick exit. It wasn’t as much the quandary of waiting in line that bothered me as it was the fact that every customer that came in was going to have a long wait behind me. Also, several of my parcels were heading overseas. If you have mailed a parcel out of the country lately, you already know that the poor overworked, underappreciated postal clerk has no choice but to punch in every letter and number on the customs form before the computer will continue.
I took my place in line and watched as people lined up behind me staring at my huge pile. I tried a few times to make eye contact only to have customers look away a micro-second after delivering what I was certain was the evil eye. So I kept my head down and continued reading a book, a habit I picked up at the post office when postal facilities around the country made the first of many drastic cuts.
I routinely wait in a line of 10-15 customers no matter what day of the year I go in to do business. And by the way, you would have thought that as a retired postmaster, I would have had better sense than to start a business that required me to come to the post office five days a week. Actually, I had given it some thought. I just hadn’t planned on my business being quite so successful.
I finally reached the window only to hear the adjacent clerk announce, “I am closing my window now.”
A collective groan resonated throughout the halls of the now least popular federal building in town. I thought, why close now, just when a guy walks up with 22 packages? Something about unions I guess. Now I was certain everyone in line would silently take their frustrations out on me.
The clerk waiting on me began pounding on keys, spitting out labels and moving those parcels as fast as anyone I had ever seen. Nonetheless, it was to no avail. The workload I handed him was simply too huge to be prompt.
I finally finished my business and was left with no choice but to turn around and face the line of disgruntled customers. Not knowing what to say I figured I would just play it by ear. I turned to leave and looked down the line of 20 –some people, every one of them looking like they were dying to address me. Finally an elderly lady looked at me and began to clap. It was contagious. She had the entire line giving me what could only be described as a standing ovation.
“I promise I won’t be back in here until next year,” I told the now-smiling audience.
I returned the next day to Moose Lake and again I had to go to the post office to finish up some last minute business. The line was only five deep and two clerks were manning the windows. What a pleasure to get quick service and be able to visit with my old friends besides.
I always was fond of the holiday season despite the heavier workload. One of my greatest joys was answering the many letters addressed to Santa Claus. I willingly did this on my own time until my own workload got so heavy I no longer enjoyed it.
Last night I ran into the lady who replaced me as Santa. As we exchanged Dear Santa stories, "Karla Elf" let me know how much she enjoys answering the letters.
Happy holidays everyone.