In the early ’60s, my mother worked at London’s postal sorting station during the Christmas rush. It was for a few weeks when the volume of mail overwhelmed the sorting capacity of the regular staff. It was the only time my mother worked at a job where she had to clock in for regular hours. Very tiring, just standing all day. The other women told her to bring egg cartons. She’d flatten several cartons or get the 2 1/2 dozen flats and take them to stand on.
It was odd coming home from school and Mom not being there. It was kind of fun but I don’t think I’d have liked it all the time. I think that’s how she felt about the work too – fun to go somewhere and do something different and nice to have the bit of extra money but not something she wanted to do day in and day out.
I never thought at the time how she managed to pull Christmas together at the same time. She made dinner for us, her parents and her sisters and their families. Dad set up tables in the basement, using sawhorses and half sheets of plywood. Plastic Christmas tablecloths covered them. All the food got carried down from the kitchen. It was the only time of the year that our unfinished basement was used as a dining room. It was fun. In the evening, after everyone had left and Mom had cleaned up, we would drive to my other grandparents’ house and have presents and another huge meal there.
I don’t know if Canada Post still hires casual Christmas workers. There is not the deluge of Christmas cards mailed that there used to be. We got so many that Mom would cover walls with them hung on loops of string. She sent just as many too.
All this was before automated sorting and postal codes or the strikes that seemed to happen every few months in the 1970s. It was before courier services took over much of the mail delivery, because of the strikes. It was before postal workers began making a very good wage, and before the head of Canada Post earned half a million dollars plus bonus each year. And of course, it was before faxes and emails, Facebook and Twitter.
People mailed letters and thank you cards, party invitations and birthday cards, sympathy cards and thinking-of-you cards, postcards that got back before you did from your vacation, and airmail letters on onion-skin paper to save on weight. It was all delivered to your house or, if you lived in a small town, you went to the post office and had a chat with the postmaster or –mistress while you collected your mail. In the country, it came to a box at the end of the driveway, delivered by someone like my grandparents who had a mail route for many years.
There’s still some of that of course. Superboxes haven’t replaced all human postal contact, yet. And they’re fine, as long as they don’t freeze up in winter or jam in summer. But you still need post offices for stamps and questions that the website can’t answer.