I was the only female in the place. Ninety-nine guys in their blue and gray uniforms watched me walk up to my case. I had on jeans, a summer top, and closed-toe shoes. It was going to be a hot one out there.
It was 6:00 a.m. I’d gotten up at 4:45, eaten breakfast, thrown on my clothes and driven from my farmhouse to the 84th and Center Street station. There were five of us newbies. They called us temporary flex letter carriers since we were the summer vacation help. I would be assigned to a different route every week.
The civil service test had been a lot of map reading and memorizing, plus putting things in alphabetical or numerical order. I was a teacher, so it was do-able. The veterans got a ten point handicap. I still scored in the top five.
I had taken the driving exam. I had to get into the tiny mail truck and show the instructor that I was competent. At one stop sign, he said, “I could flunk you right now. You need to feel all four wheels come to a stop, not just the two in the front.”
“Okay,” I said, wondering if I’d blown the whole thing.
He passed me.
The next thing was to learn how to case the mail. A runner brought over a huge bundle of letters. My job was to cut it apart with my government-issued scissors and sort the mail into the cubicles by address. The case was labeled in order of the route. I got the hang of it. After casing the mail, I had to pull it out and put it into trays in the order that I would deliver it. Then the trays went into rolling canvas carts along with the packages for my route. I also had to stop by the certified and registered mail cage to see if I had anything to pick up and sign for.
Then it was down to the dock, get the keys, and load my truck. Then I’d re-park, lock it up, and run back inside to use the bathroom before I headed out to the route, usually by 9:00 a.m.
Most of the guys were long gone by the time I headed out. It was something of a competition to be the first ones out of the gate. The day would end at 2:00 p.m. unless I worked overtime or had to do part of someone else’s route if too many guys were on vacation or sick.
Omaha was a grid of streets except for the rich part south of Dodge and newer parts where courts were the style. It was physical work, schlepping the trays and packages, with lots of in and out of the truck. The split level houses were the worst – up the stairs to the mailbox, down the stairs, do it again.
My breaks were at my discretion. Every postal carrier had a cooler in the truck with lunch and cold drinks. I had a can of Mace on my belt in case I met a hostile dog. The only dog that attacked me was a tiny one after I stepped up onto a porch. A half dozen kids were coloring on the steps, and as I picked my way down around their hands and feet, the little guy bit me in the butt and ripped a hole in my new jeans, which I’d had to buy since I was getting thinner.
After delivering mail, I was so hungry and tired that I mostly ate junk, like entire 16 ounce jars of salted peanuts while I lounged in front of the TV with my aching legs and feet up on the couch.
My summer roommate had an easier job delivering Keebler cookies to grocery stores. She couldn’t understand why I was so tired all the time.
On the days that I was asked to do the afternoon collection run at 4:00, I had to wait around for two hours, take out a bigger truck, go around to a couple dozen blue mailboxes and some businesses, park, unlock the boxes, stuff the mail into burlap bags, and then throw them into the back of the truck, and drive to the next stop. Some of the bags from the businesses weighed seventy pounds.
The collection route was timed at three minute intervals, so if a woman blocked my truck with her car to hand me a letter, or if traffic was heavy, I would miss the big truck back at 84th street and would have to drive the collection truck all the way downtown, back it up to the dock, wait for the guys to unload it, drive the truck back to 84th street, lock it up, deposit the keys in the slot since everyone was long gone, and then drive to my little farmhouse, getting home around 7:00 p.m. Another jar of peanuts and then sleep until 4:45 and start it all again. I worked six days a week.
By the fall, I’d lost more than twenty pounds. I had money from all that overtime to buy new clothes, a couch, a desk, a rocking recliner in rust plaid, a coffee table, and a kitchen table and chairs. My winter roommate and I had split up, and she’d taken her furniture with her.
My biggest regret was that I didn’t spend more time with my old college buddy, who had come to Nebraska for the summer.
The USPS offered me a permanent job in August. My mother had a melt-down.
“You went to college to be a teacher, not a mailman!”
I thought of Omaha winters and decided to go back to the classroom.
It was 1978, and I was the first female letter carrier at the 84th and Center post office in Omaha.
Couldda Wouldda Shouldda
If I would’ve ditched teaching to deliver mail, I would’ve married the guy two cases over and had five children. I would have slipped on the ice and would now be on disability from a ruined back or a dog bite, or both.