As titles go, “Why I Live at the P.O.” is up there among the best. It’s a short story by Eudora Welty, and I don’t know if she’s still standing the test of time, but when I was in college, this story was de rigueur for every anthology ever published. (“I Stand Here Ironing ” — another excellent title — was a Tillie Olsen story never far from Eudora in the books.)
I don’t remember much of the plot, just that a disgruntled woman was airing grievances against her family members — but Lynn is living the title.
It’s Christmastime in Postal Land, and no matter how many years you have in service, you do not get to take vacation this month. It’s “all hands on deck” at every P.O.
One year Lynn worked the days leading up to Thanksgiving, and then she worked on Thanksgiving, and then she worked every day until Christmas. Maybe she even worked on Christmas. I believe she got the 26th off.
[I want you all to know Na Ki’o is being a tremendous help with this entry. I wasn’t around much yesterday, so he has me pinned down quite firmly and may never be leaving.]
This year hasn’t been nearly that bad, but today — Sunday — she went to work at 6 and isn’t expecting to come home before 4.
And yet, she really likes her job.
In her time Before TL (I mean, why even bother?), Lynn spent most of her career in food service. She waited tables at her mom’s restaurant and at a truck stop, helped out with her mom’s bed-and-breakfast, and then landed for many years at a resort in northern Wisconsin as the cook.
When she moved to Gunnison, she thought she wanted to try something besides food service. She went down to Job Service (I believe it’s correctly called Colorado Workforce), and Sodexo, which then had an H in its name and the contracts for food service at both the hospital and the college, needed help at the hospital. She had a job within a week of arrival. But still food service.
Sodexo got the H out and lost the hospital contract, and Lynn ended up as the baker at the college, where she remained for several years. She was also doing some baking on the side until the demand grew, and then she ended up opening her own bakery.
I found her a nice little space off the alley behind Pat’s Screen Printing (kind of like the drive-up service that’s gaining in popularity these days), and Life Was Good, if hectic. And then her landlord changed property managers, and the first thing the new guy (who has quite the reputation around town — it’s not a good one) did was jack up her rent nearly half again as much.
We looked at some options, but Lynn, who was already working 60-70-more hours per week, was afraid that more visibility would make her even busier, and she was maxed out. She closed down her bakery (still to the dismay of her many loyal customers) and went back to Sodexo, where they appreciated her so much that they awarded other people with three-, five- and 10-year pins in a ceremony, and didn’t believe her when she told them she had been with the company 10 years. She got an “Oh, I guess you’re right. Here,” along with a gift card, several days later. No ceremony.
Her last supervisor there came with bipolar issues (and after he finally left Gunnison, his next job lasted four days before he was fired), and on the day he screamed at her in front of the entire kitchen staff for not making a recipe to his satisfaction (after he had screamed at her for asking him questions during the baking process), she quit. By the way, the recipe in question was something he wrote down on the back of an envelope while he was watching some cooking show on TV and had never tried himself.
And that is how Lynn came to work at the P.O. and finally, 10 or 11 years after coming to town, got her wish to try something other than food service. (If you ask really nicely, she might still make you some cookies.)
While I wouldn’t want her days, she has really enjoyed this job. She is given a weekly schedule, but they generally change it by the day, and she just goes with the flow.
Her official duty assignment is Almont, and I saw on her pay stub that she is the “Postmaster/Manager” — I don’t know if that’s because they can’t decide or she’s both. Either way, she is the entire office staff.
But her days usually start in Gunnison (at 6 a.m. — bleah), where she helps sort the mail before heading for Almont, which is open 8-noon six days a week. Then, depending on how busy everyone is, what the staffing is, and how the stars are aligned, she is done/goes back to Gunnison/drives out to Sargents/heads to Crested Butte.
Her least favorite assignment is Crested Butte. The Post Office there, like the Grinch’s heart, is about two sizes too small. There’s an off-site annex (no customers allowed), but it’s the same undersized footprint.
I just read in the Crested Butte News that the school population is now what the entire town population was when the school was built (back in the days when I was going to school board meetings). Mt. Crested Butte has been its own incorporated town since 1974, but it gave up its post office once, and no matter how much it wants one back, it apparently can’t have one. Crested Butte South is unincorporated, and a textbook case in sprawl (but not a textbook with Eudora Welty), and it doesn’t get a P.O. either.
So all these people shoehorn into the small building on Elk Avenue. The paper just this week ran a picture of people standing in line, saying it often extends to Izzy’s, a nearby restaurant, and the rambling editorial (kind of like this blog) among many other things encouraged appreciating the beleaguered employees while simultaneously griping about the duration of the wait.
Some savvy people in CB are latching onto a new plan, one they all regard as hush-hush: they go to the Almont P.O. instead. No lines. Except that three women all showed up at the same time (close to closing, of course) yesterday, and said, “I thought this was my secret!”
If the secret gets out, that could make Lynn busier — but probably not as busy as the bakery biz. Which is why she now lives at the P.O.
The interior of Lynn’s P.O. home, which I have yet to visit. It even comes with its own lending library. She decorated for the holidays, and you may even be able to get candy at the counter — but not cookies.