When I was five, my father worked at the post office in our medium-sized southern town. Back then, since it was nearly unheard of for a family to have more than one car, many times my mother and little brother and I would drive to get him when he worked late. There was something so deliciously mysterious about being allowed to enter a dimly lit government building, especially where the mail sanctuary stood strict guard over this age-old communication.
Yes, there were telephones and telegrams and telex machines, but dealing with words that were written on paper and folded and stuffed in envelopes seemed almost magical to me. Once that official stamp was attached to the upper right hand corner and dropped in a big metal box, it was solely the very serious business of the post office until it was delivered to the name and address on the front. That still holds.
Before computers, postal folks pitched the mail. Dad could stand in one spot and zip letter after letter into little cubby holes. I never saw him miss, and he was lightening fast. I loved to get there before he was finished and with adoring little girl fascination sit on a big mailbag stuffed with letters and watch his amazing skill. To this day, that post office back-room smell sends my mind right back to my lumpy front row seat where I observed my daddy do what he did so well.
While my mother would hang on to our busy toddler, or hold him while he nodded off, my mind would reel with questions I did not really know how to ask, and answers I made up. Where was all this mail going? Who was waiting for it? Who would cry and who would laugh when it was opened? Did letters to Santa go off in that dark green truck and all the way to some shadowy place with loads of snow? Did the post office people ever drop a letter or a box, or lose one? How did this peculiar and exciting process really work?
Sometimes he had other secret things to finish up, like gathering boxes and loading them into the right bins for the big truck that would come before morning to haul away all the other outgoing treasures: bills, love letters, good news, bad news, and notices. I would try not to fall asleep on those thick canvas bags with the words PROPERTY OF THE U.S. POSTAL SERVICE. I usually failed.
I could hear Dadís soft-soled shoes pad around and the gentle jingle of all his keys as he locked this and that. He was required to get things in order for the day shift to open bright and early and start doing the one job the whole world counted on. As hard as I fought it, drowsiness would often win. My father would pick me up as if I were a special delivery on its way to an important person. I would be too near sleep to protest, but I felt one hundred percent safe as he managed to close the heavy door and turn the key, then carefully walk down the steps, still carrying his first born ever so gently.
Baby brother and I would ride home curled up on the carís back seat like exhausted puppies. No thought of danger or of threat to my peaceful twilight slumber disturbed me. I knew once we got home he would carry me to my sweet-sheeted place of safety and somehow Mother would get me into one of the little nightgowns I lovedÖand all would be right in my innocent world.
That long ago memory is still so dear and sharp, even though decades have passed. With time, as often happens in reality, lives change; after all, we cannot stay five forever.
I will never forget the thrill of contemplating the mystery of the outgoing things over which my father had official charge and how absolutely certain I was that I could close my eyes in the middle of it all and one tall, strong man would tenderly carry me to where I belonged.
Even without the poingnant scent of an old canvas mailbag, or the sound of keys that open doors I have not seen, I have a feeling when I close my eyes one last time and I am returned to sender that sweet memory will comfort me as I feel my Heavenly Fatherís loving arms take me Home.
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