A Postmistress Speaks

Few jobs or services have the bad press accorded the USPS. Post office employees have the singular honor of having an unflattering term that refers to their behavior. “Going postal” has come to signify becoming extremely and uncontrollably angry, often to the point of violence, and usually in a workplace environment. The term originates from the series of incidents beginning in the late ’80s, in which employees or former employees of the post office committed acts of murder.

I think it’s time for my favorite postmistress, Cassie Miller, of the Postmistress Mysteries, to convey a more positive view.

The calm, welcoming post office of my childhood

From Cassie

As you can see from the badge on my regulation blue USPS jacket, I’m CASSIE MILLER, POSTMISTRESS. I’ve just come in from one of my favorite duties, hoisting the American flag outside my post office. After many years working in Boston’s main postal facility, I recently returned to my home town of North Ashcot, Massachusetts.

Nothing makes me more nervous than writing an essay. Except possibly public speaking. I’m feeling that old classroom anxiety all over again. I remember those awful Compare and Contrast questions. The State the Theme of challenge. The Prove Your Point with Examples dare. Old Mr. Warren required a minimum of 500 words. Didn’t he realize how many that was? A typical thank-you note, a task forced on me by my mother, runs about 15 words. Thanks very much for the pretty green sweater, Aunt Tess. I wear it very often. That’s my speed.

But to please my mentor, Jean Flowers, I’ve agreed to write about my life running my one-woman post office in a small town. So here goes.

I love my job. I think of all USPS workers as the greatest couriers in the world. I’m honored that my customers trust me with their most important communications. Whether they’re paying a bill, sending an invitation, or dropping a Get Well line to a friend, they count on me to deliver.

Even though I’m only one person in a long chain of people on the way to your addressee, I take my responsibility very seriously. I imagine I might be handling a life-changing missive. A love letter, or its opposite. A job offer, or its opposite. An acceptance. A rejection. Every one of the approximately one billion Valentine’s Day cards that are sent annually is important.

Lately I’ve had some unusual experiences. I didn’t expect to become involved in solving murders, for example! But I’ve been exposed to many aspects of USPS employment, from sorter to letter carrier to counter service, plus brief stints with the inspection arm and what we used to call the Dead Letter Office, but now refer to in a more positive way as the MRC (Mail Recovery Center).

My training has served me well. Not that I’m skilled with weapons (although guns sometimes arrive at the MRC) or forensics, but a postal worker has to be a problem solver. Like all the times the USPS receives letters addressed to God, or Santa, or the tooth fairy. Or when the mailbox on the corner yields not only envelopes but keys, eyeglasses, gloves, and the occasional roast beef sandwich.

So far, I’ve been able to help our Chief of Police, my friend Sunni Smargon, as she works to bring the bad guys to justice. But what I like to talk about best is post office history. Did you know, for example, that:

• The first woman featured on a U.S. postage stamp was Queen Isabella in 1893.

• The first American woman featured was Martha Washington in 1902.

• The USPS has more than 200,000 vehicles, one of the largest civilian fleets in the world.

• The USPS handles 47% of the world’s mail volume.

You can imagine the fun postal workers have when we get together and exchange trivia!

Funny post office stories are also high on the list when my best friend Linda and I chat. Linda still works at the main post office in Boston and not a day goes by without at least one laugh. Today Linda told me about finding an unorthodox envelope in the outgoing mail slot—the customer had taped 1 quarter, two dimes, and 4 pennies across the top.

The best story might be the one about the elderly woman who addressed a letter to God, asking for $100 to cover her food and drug needs for the month. She had no one else to turn to, she said. A kind postal employee took up a collection and managed to pull together $90 and send it to the old lady. A few days later, a note in the same handwriting appeared, again addressed to God. “Thanks a lot for your attention,” the woman wrote. “But you should know that those corrupt postal workers stole $10.”

Not every good deed is rewarded, but here at the post office we do our best all the same.


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2 Responses to “A Postmistress Speaks”

  1. Camille says:

    I love good news post office stories, Linda!

  2. Linda says:

    I once received a damaged postcard in the mail. All that was left of the address was my name and the ZIP code. And I got it anyway!