If you live on a rural route, chances are your mail is delivered to a box at the end of your driveway. Ever wonder how much your Rural and Suburban Mail Carrier knows about you?
“You get to know almost everybody’s middle name, when their birthdays are or anniversaries,” says Brian Field of Port Howe. “Most of the time, you see it so much, you don’t remember.”
In April, Brian will achieve a remarkable milestone: It will forty years since he began delivering the mail for the Port Howe post office.
He started during his final year of high school, delivering over noon hour and first period in the afternoon.
“The contract was in our family for many years and Dad worked away so he had Reg and Vaughn Pauley as interim drivers while he was gone. They wanted out of it,” Brian says, “and I was getting to the age where I could take over. I wanted to farm so the mail worked in good.”
As far as Brian knows, his grandfather started the contract in the 1920’s.
“I found a clip on a DVD that my cousin sent from the States. It shows my grandfather delivering the mail from the Wood Brothers store, picking it up then doing Cameron’s Beach in the mail buggy.”
That would be a horse-drawn buggy. Fast forward fifty years to 1973: The first car Brian used to deliver the mail was “a bright orange Volkswagen,” he recalls. “It was the Fastback model. Bright orange with a black trunk fin. I didn’t keep her very long. I went to a 6-cylinder Plymouth Duster. The best mileage I could get out of her doing the mail was 13 miles a gallon.”
Until the post office opened in Port Howe in 1969, the mail was sorted and delivered from the local store. In forty years, Brian has only worked out of the small brick post office.
“I think back then it was approximately 70 customers,” he says. “Port Howe was two delivery routes, 1 and 2. Alma Johnson got so she couldn’t do route 2 so Doug and Jean Mills drove the mail to finish Alma’s contract out and when it came up for renewal, Canada Post looked at it and said one person could do both routes.”
That one person was Brian. It takes him about 2 hours to deliver the mail to 110 or so households but that can go up to 200 in the summertime when seasonal customers put a mailbox up on the main road.
Asked about the changes he’s seen over the past four decades, Brian says, “Personal mail has gone out of it. The hand-written letter. Certain people write quite a bit, cards and letters, but overall, it’s gone. As far as general mail, on most days, it’s bank stuff.”
Yet another change is kind of personal as well.
“Very few people are home now,” Brian says. “Because they aren’t farming, because they’re not self-employed like that, they are working away. I had one old fellow say, ‘I never had to worry about what time of day I had to go and put my dinner on because I could set my watch by you every day.’ Those old guys, if they were out in the yard, they’d always come to the mailbox to have a chat. They might chat for only two minutes but if they were handy, they made a point of talking to me.”
For 13 years, Brian also delivered the newspaper first thing in the morning, and for the past ten years, he’s driven a school bus twice a day.
When I point out that all of his jobs since he was 17 years old have involved delivering something -- mail, newspapers, students -- he says he hadn’t thought of it that way.
“Almost every job I’ve had has been precise timing,” he says. “If the Herald wasn’t there, people would be calling. If the mail isn’t there, people call. If you’re five minutes late to pick up the kids...There’s pressure some days, if the mail truck driver calls up and says he’s going to be late or the roads are bad. It’s hard to change my timing. Some days it’s quite stressful, getting everything done.”
He doesn’t know when he last ate lunch.
After forty years, and turning 58 later this year, what is Brian looking forward to?
“The Golden Mailbox,” he laughs.
He means retirement but his wife, Ann Marie, claims he won’t be able to give it up.
“It’s habit,” he shrugs, knowing she’s likely right. “I’ve always done it. If the service keeps going until 2020, something like that, we will have 100 years in.” By ‘we’ he means his grandfather, father and himself. “I don’t know if I can keep it going that long,” Brian admits.
He also doesn’t know what changes are coming to the way our rural mail is delivered.
“I’d hate to see it go because it’s the rural way of life. People have always looked for the mail. The older people made the mail route a lot more personal because they used to look forward to the mail. Maybe it’s not as important now, though.”
Brian starts to think out loud about all the kilometers he’s driven in the past 40 years.
There’s the 75 kilometers a day, five days a week for the roughly 220 days of the year that he delivers mail, but he also drove 140 kilometers a day for six then seven days a week when he was delivering the paper until 2007.
It’s a really, really big number. Well over two million. Well over.
But Brian only knows for sure the mileage from the four Dodge Dakota trucks he’s driven since 1994. Adding up those numbers alone comes to 1.7 million kilometers.
This is a man who delivers.