Leslie T. Richardson- Memories & Other Stories
To every small child the mail is important, as especially so, at Christmas.
I was raised in the age when the trains were the main means of communications with the outside world and they brought the mail. There were several trains a day coming into Caledonia and the last important one for mail was at 7 p.m.
We, as children, were as regular at the Post Office as the mail itself. In my early days the Post Office was in the Leith building, now occupied, by Arrell, Brown, Osier and Murray. It was approximately half way from my home to the school and a visit there was a 'must' both going and coming. It was a habit I never lost during my public school days.
We had a post box. In fact, we have it yet. It has been in the family more than 80 years now-- the same number. In the old Post Office, the boxes all had external locks, and a number system like a school boy's padlock. It was not long before we knew all the neighbouring combination numbers and codes. We would see the owner arrive for his mail and would oblige him by having the box open for him. I am not certain whether this was appreciated at the time or not, but neighbours were friendlier then. We also knew who had not picked up his mail for sometime and enquiry would tell us that he was away or sick. This information we would pass on to our parents and they too knew what was going on in town. Perhaps that is why they would let me go for the evening mail. The Hamilton Herald newspaper would arrive on this mail.
At noon-hour the two or three hundred children from the Public School would pour into the post office, all after their mail. The High School students would follow shortly after and so the Post Office was a hive of bustling people. The same mad crowd would arrive after four. For nine out of ten there was no mail, but the busy postal staff had to answer all inquiries. Mr. Wm. Brierley, his two daughters, Helen and Jean and his sister, Ella (Mrs. Tom Arrell) and Janet Duncan (Mrs. Morley Forster) seemed to be able to cope with the rush.
Christmas time was especially busy. The waiting room would fill up quickly while the wickets were shut. Most of the town's business and gossip was carried on here. There was a wall section where Church Bazaars and Christmas concerts were advertised. Death notices were tacked to this bulletin board, so that all important functions in the Town had a real outlet. Funerals were a very important local function in those days and to miss a notice of a funeral was an insult to the family.
The Christmas mail would pour in and out of the Post Office. I can remember Mr. Jim Thorburn with a high two-wheeled cart delivering the mail from the station, right down the sidewalk. Everyone had to get out of his way and on to the road.Later Doc. Brown (Mr. Arrell's Uncle) had a four wheel cart and a pony to do the same job. we boys would hang on the back of it and drag our feet over the gravel road. (Stealing a ride was our term for this.) It was difficult hanging on to this cart and we did not make much progress. Doc. Brown did not seem to mind us on the back, as the experience had taught him that we did not last too long, as it was very uncomfortable the way we tried to do it. Finally we would drop off and then race him to the Post Office. When he arrived the wicket closed and the curious had to wait until that batch of mail was sorted.
If a parcel notice was pushed into the box, we were on pins and needles, waiting for the wicket, that never opened, to open. Any parcel at Christmas time was important. We examined all phases of it; whose writing; the return address; the size, the weight; and by the time we got home we were in a tizzy. Somehow or other these parcels would disappear until Christmas. Only when we got older did they stay under the Christmas Tree and even then the contents were a constant source of curiosity to all.
My parents would let me go for the late mail, right after supper because I was accompanied home by Mr. Charles Fortune, a neighbour. I always thought that I saw to it that he got across the bridge all right as he was, at that time, to me, a really old man.
Years later, I found out, he kept and eye on me and saw that I got home all right. It was a case of the old helping the young and vice versa. He liked me and I liked him. He listened to my childish prattle all the way home and no doubt told his wife all that went on in school, Sunday school and everything else in my small world.
I can remember Mr. Fortune and a number of prominent men talking in a corner of the Post Office, about visiting Ancaster. What time they would leave the next day, what time they got back. Sometimes it was in the wee hours of the morning as the roads were so bad, especially in the winter. These men were always laughing at something funny which occurred on some of these occasions. At that time I was too young to know but these men were the organizers of the Royal Arch Charter of Masons, in Caledonia, and they went visiting to Ancaster regularly.
Christmas weather is not always the most pleasant, even at the best of times, and when the wind and snow would blow off the river on a cold raw night, it was not easy going to cross the single wooden footpath on the old bridge. This was especially true when one had a large parcel and one's hands were cold. Fortunately for me, I could duck down and miss most of the storm. Not so for my mail-time partner, he had to face the storm head-on. He was always glad to reach the southern shore. He usually broke the path and I trailed behind in his footsteps. Those nights we had little conversation, but both felt the warmth of friendship, as we shared one another's difficulties, wading through the deep snow drifts, and glad of each other's company. The old and the young! The distance was made shorter because of him.