Pipi's Pasture: Getting the mail

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I am amused when I hear people refer to today’s mail as “snail mail.” When I was a kid growing up on the ranch, we didn’t have a telephone — not until I was about 14 — so mail was the only way we had to communicate with people who didn’t live in the community.

The mail for Morapos and the surrounding area was brought in to the Hamilton Post Office, which was located in the back of the Hamilton Store (Hamilton is midway between Craig and the ranch). Uncle Albert Ottens owned the store and was postmaster of the Hamilton Post Office.

So Uncle Albert “put up the mail.” We could pick up our mail at the post office if we wanted, but a mail carrier came up the Morapos county road three times per week to leave the mail. The other days of the week, the carrier delivered mail to other area communities.

Each ranch had two canvas mail bags with the family name printed on them in bold, black stenciled letters. The family put outgoing mail in one canvas bag. The mail carrier brought mail up from Hamilton in the other. Each bag had a clasp and a leather strap.

On mail day, the carrier drove up the county road. He hooked the leather strap of the canvas bag on some kind of hook on one side of the mail box and then stuffed the canvas bag of mail inside the box. He picked up the canvas bag of outgoing mail to take back to Hamilton. The carrier repeated these steps at every mail box. The ranch always had one bag; the other bag was at the Hamilton Post Office.

(A note here: I wish I had kept a diary when I was a kid. I have to check with Charlotte and Darlene, my sisters, and my brother Duane to see if my memories are close to accurate. It’s interesting how differently we remember things at times. Duane was born when I was 14, so his memories come from a different time. Charlotte remembered the leather straps on the canvas mail bags.)

Anyway, we looked forward to the mail, which included the Craig Empire Courier that was so big we had to spread it out on the table to read the news. We also got Capper’s Weekly, a couple farm/ranch magazines, and Mom subscribed to The Workbasket, a little magazine that featured crocheting and quilting patterns and directions.

The mail was the only way we had to keep in touch with relatives who didn’t live in the area. And then there were the bills and other business correspondence, and numerous catalogs, including the Sears and Montgomery Ward catalogs. If packages fit into the large canvas bag, the carrier brought them, too. If not, Uncle Albert sent a note letting us know there was a package at the post office.

Sometimes, about this time of year, Mom got a note via the mail that her baby chicks had arrived at Hamilton. There must have been other ways, before the days we had a telephone, that Uncle Albert let us know about the chicks’ arrival, but we can’t remember them. Mom ordered the chicks, some pullets and some roosters from a poultry catalog, and they often arrived before the brooder house was ready for them.

Charlotte remembers that the mail carrier sometimes brought the chicks with the mail, and she said we could hear the chicks when he drove up. I remember going down to Hamilton to get them.

The chicks arrived in a box with four compartments. Holes had been punched in the sides of the box so the chicks could get air. I can remember the chicks pecking at our fingers when we poked them in the holes.

We hurried home with the chicks because they had to be fed and watered. We took them in the house because the brooder house wasn’t ready, and Mom put down some paper on the floor near the stove where they would be warm.We put up a makeshift wall around the papers. Then we unpacked the chicks.

Remarkably, nearly all of the chicks made the trip, but we usually found one or two that had died. We took each chick out and held its beak in water so it could get a drink. When they were all watered, we fed them some finely-ground chick starter and hard boiled eggs that had been mashed up.

No matter whether it brought us letters or chicks, the mail was important to us!

Copyright Diane Prather, 2013.

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