THE MAILMAN “I never thought I’d say this, but I actually miss Canada Post”. Ted never thought he’d hear those words, either. Especially from Gram. As far back as he could remember, his grandmother had always railed against both Canada Post – “Ruddy bureaucrats raising postal rates to pay for their own ruddy jobs” – and its employees – “A bunch of lazy ruddy good-for-nothings who couldn’t hold a real job”. Like most older people, she insisted on comparing things to how she remembered them as a child – “You could post a letter and it would arrive the next day! Tell that to today’s posties and they’d threaten to go on strike, the cheeky buggers – pardon my language, Teddy”. Besides, everything was better in the Old Country – “They still get the post twice a day in England, did you know that?” When the federal government threatened to abolish Canada Post if the postal union went on strike again, then carried out its threat the day after the picket lines went up, Ted’s grandmother was one of those who cheered the loudest. But now Gram was less than enthusiastic. It wasn’t so much that the courier companies, which now had government contracts to deliver parcels and foreign mail, charged almost twice the old rates. What Gram didn’t like were the cheap fax machines that the phone companies now rented to their customers who still wanted to write, rather than phone, each other. “I tried having one of those fax things around for a month. Never could understand how the ruddy thing worked, and half the time I couldn’t read what it printed. So I sent it back”. “I tried to show you, Gram…”, said Ted half-heartedly. He had asked her if she needed any more help using her fax machine, and that had set her off. “And people say to use the phone more. ‘Reach out and touch someone’, they say. Well, my ear starts hurting after five minutes, and it takes far longer than that to listen to everything your great-aunt Vera has to say”. “Don’t you know anyone who can send your letters over their own fax machine?” Gram snorted. “Well, that’s no ruddy good! They’d be able to read it, wouldn’t they? Imagine, letting your personal mail be read by some nosy bugger–pardon my language, Teddy. “No, no, Teddy, it’s just not the same”, she continued, becoming calmer. “Even if I understood all this modern technology, it just wouldn’t be the same. It’s so fast now–someone sends a letter by fax, and they expect a return letter right away, if not yesterday, or at least a phone-call. Pretty soon, you get to be the same way. “Letters aren’t meant to be sent and received like that. A letter should sit and marinate in your head for a few days before you write it and send it off. After that, there’s the anticipation of receiving a reply. Then, when it does arrive, you can read it again and again, then put it away, then take it out and read it again. And real paper, Teddy, not that funny fax paper that feels like plastic and leaves stains on your fingers. Real letters, on real paper”. Ted and his grandmother continued to sit quietly in her kitchen for a few minutes, sipping their tea thoughtfully. He was there for a last visit, to see her one more time before he left Vancouver. He didn’t know how long he’d be gone. Apart from visiting some friends, he had no real destination in mind; he’d just go wherever his feet led, for as long and as far as his money lasted. What was that word they use in Australia? Walkabout – that’s where he was going. “Were you planning on going to Montr al, to visit Vera?” asked Gram. He was actually going to Montr al first, but not necessarily to visit Gram’s sister. Ted hadn’t seen his great-aunt in almost ten years. But, if it made her happy…. “Uh, yeah, I was, actually. I’m not sure when, though…”. “Never mind that. I have something for you to give her when you visit. It’s just in here…”. She went into her bedroom, and came back with an envelope. “Here. If there’s no more mail, we’ll just have to be our own mailmen”. Ted found himself in Montr al a week later. He spent a day with a former girlfriend, checking out the scene along St. Catherine Street, then another day with her and some other friends in Old Montr al. Then he decided to get it over with, and visit Great-Aunt Vera. Using the address that Gram had written on the envelope as a guide, he looked her up in the phone book, and called. It actually took a moment for her to remember him. It had, after all, been ten years since they had seen each other, and almost as long since one of them had written (it had been her that wrote last, actually, for his sixteenth birthday). But as soon as she did, Vera invited Ted over for dinner. The dinner was so good, and he had such a grand time talking with his great-aunt and making up for ten years gone past, that Ted almost forgot about Gram’s letter until he was about to leave. Feeling the envelope inside his jacket pocket, he pulled it out and, with a profoundly sheepish expression on his face, handed it to Vera. She was pleased as punch, and laughed out loud when he told her the story behind it. “I guess she just wanted to write and send a real letter one more time”, he finished. Vera’s eyes closed behind her thick, horn-rimmed glasses. When she opened them, they twinkled as if she was a little girl hiding a secret. “Where did you say you were going next? Didn’t you say that you wanted to visit a friend in Windsor?” “Yeah, I do. I was gonna stay with Jack a few days, maybe go together across the border into Detroit”. “Oh, dear, now do be careful down there! Don’t get mixed up in anything…”. “I won’t, don’t worry”. “Now what was I thinking of…? Oh, yes. Could you come over again, before you leave Montr al?” she asked. “I so enjoyed our visit today, Teddy. Please?” “Uh, sure, I guess. Day after tomorrow okay?” “Yes, certainly! Be here in time for tea”. Two days later, as he sat down at the kitchen table for tea and blueberry muffins, Ted noticed an envelope at his table setting. It had a Windsor address written on the front. When he looked at her, Vera smiled. “Your grandmother’s letter gave me a wonderful idea. I have an old friend in Windsor, Alice Duckworth, whom I haven’t spoken to in years. It’ll be such a wonderful surprise for her to hear from me, I’m sure–especially a letter, of all things!” She picked up the tea-pot, and poured him a cup. “Do you take both cream and sugar, Teddy?” When Ted arrived in Windsor, he told his friend Jack about how he had been delivering mail since he left Vancouver. “Wild”, said Jack. “Maybe you’ve found your true calling, eh?” “Yeah, right. As if I could make a living as a mailman now”. “Do it anyway. Maybe get a job with one of the courier companies”. “Nah, forget it. It’s been interesting, but I’m sure this letter will be the last one. I’ll bring it over tomorrow and get it over with”. When he arrived at Alice Duckworth’s front door the next morning, she didn’t want to let him in. This was understandable, considering that so far during his trip he hadn’t had time to do any laundry, so for all he knew the creases and stains on his shirt and jeans might have been two weeks old. He also hadn’t shaved in three days, which probably made him even more suspicious-looking. Ted explained why he was there, and showed her the letter through the screen door. He was thinking that he should have at least called first, when she relented and, rather to his surprise, allowed him inside.
Inviting him to sit down in the kitchen, Mrs. Duckworth took the envelope, opened it, and read the letter silently. Ted remained politely quiet, looking around the kitchen and dining area at the pictures and knick-knacks the elderly woman had collected over the years. A soft chuckle drew his attention back to the woman, whose smile now filled her face with a thousand new wrinkles. “Oh, what a delightful thing to do”, she beamed. “And so thoughtful, too. You know, I hadn’t heard from Vera for years. And it was so nice of you to bring it over, you’re such a nice young man. I could tell that right away, you know, that’s why I let you in. What’s your name again?” “Uh, Ted, ma’am. And it was no trouble at all”. “Well, thank you very much, Ted. Now, I hope you’ll stay for lunch”. “Well, I really should be going…”. “Nonsense! I insist you stay for lunch – it’s the least I can do in return for your delivering this wonderful letter from my dear old friend Vera. Are you going back to Montr al? Perhaps you could bring her back a letter from me”. “No, I’m not, sorry. I was actually gonna head for Nova Scotia, next”. “Oh, well, never mind. I’ll think of something. Now then, what can I fix us for lunch…?” As they ate lunch together, Ted told Mrs. Duckworth about his admittedly vague travel plans. When he mentioned again his desire to visit the Maritimes next, she looked up and snapped her fingers. “I knew there was something, but I just couldn’t remember it before. Now, I know you’ve already done plenty for me already, Ted, bringing over this letter and keeping me company for a few hours. But could I persuade you, when you’re Down East, to make a detour to Charlottetown?” “P.E.I.? What for?” “Well, I know this might sound silly”, she began. “I have a nephew who lives there, and it’s his birthday next week. I was going to use my neighbor s fax machine to send him birthday greetings–I don’t use the darn thing enough to make it worthwhile having my own fax machine, you see. “But I have some beautiful old-fashioned birthday cards left over from when Canada Post was still around to deliver them, and it’s a shame to not put them to good use. So if you don’t mind, what I could do is phone my nephew instead, and tell him to expect a special delivery in a couple of days”. Ted couldn’t believe that this was happening again. At first he didn’t want to do it, and tried to think of some plausible excuse not to do it. But after a moment, he found himself thinking, “Oh, what the hell”. Mrs. Duckworth was still talking. “Now, when you make it out there, just do what you did today – go to the address on the envelope, and deliver the card to him”. “I think I know the procedure by now”, said Ted with a smile. When he got back to Jack’s apartment, Ted told his friend about the mail delivery he’d agreed to do in Charlottetown. “I didn’t want to do it at first, but something told me that this freelance mail-delivery thing was something worth doing, and that I should follow it through”. “See?” said Jack. “It really is your calling. It’s fate, you can’t get away from it”. Whatever it was, it followed him everywhere. When he arrived in Charlottetown a week later, Mrs. Duckworth’s nephew knew who he was right away, and almost as soon as Ted handed him his birthday card, he asked him, “I don’t suppose you’ll be going to Halifax, will you?”, and handed him an addressed envelope. Actually, Ted had already been to Halifax, but he had already made up his mind to keep delivering letters as long as people kept giving them to him to deliver. He put the letter in his knapsack, and sat down to a chicken dinner with Mrs. Duckworth’s nephew and his family. And so it went. Every time he delivered a letter, Ted got a free meal. After delivering his letter to two brothers in Halifax, they invited him to stay for dinner; naturally, he accepted. The fish they served looked and tasted suspiciously like cod, but before he could say anything one of the brothers spoke up. “I know you’re thinking it’s just like cod, but it isn’t. We’re not allowed to catch it, and we can’t afford to buy it, either legally or on the black market”. “Not that we know anything about no black market”, said the other brother quickly. “Right, exactly. It’s actually, uh, sea-trout”. “Yeah, that’s it, sea-trout. It’s really common around here. You like it?” “Yeah, it’s great”, answered Ted. “It’s like no other trout I’ve ever had”. The letter that the two brothers gave him was to be delivered in North York. He took his time getting there, having no interest in venturing into deepest, darkest Toronto, let alone one of its suburbs. The family to which Ted delivered the letter, in addition to feeding him lunch, gave him two letters to deliver – one in Winnipeg, the other in Edmonton. In Winnipeg, there was nobody home when he arrived at the apartment to which the letter was addressed, so he slipped it under the door – the first time he didn’t get a meal in return for playing mailman. The Edmonton delivery made up for this – the middle-aged couple treated him to lunch when he delivered their letter, and fed him dinner the next day when he came back to pick up the letter they wanted brought to Calgary. Ted had obviously stumbled onto something. People may not have liked dealing with Canada Post when it still existed, but writing letters was another matter. Obviously, for many people, telephone, fax, electronic mail, and all the other high-tech services of the so-called information age couldn’t replace old-fashioned letter-writing as a means of expression. They didn’t want to exchange just information. They wanted to communicate their emotions and intimate thoughts, and putting pen to paper was still the best way for them to do so. The medium was the message: many people still preferred paper to digital signals. The letter that the Edmonton couple wanted delivered was addressed to the wife’s mother in Calgary. Ted phoned when he arrived in the city, introduced himself and explained what he was doing, and arranged to meet her the next day. When she arrived at her house, he was ushered in almost immediately. The woman sat him down at her kitchen table, and placed a big bowl of vegetable soup in front of him. When she finished reading the letter from her daughter and son-in-law, she spoke to Ted as he finished his soup. “So you’ve been doing this all across the country, have you? What a wonderful idea! I have my fax machine, and I use it a great deal, but many people don’t like them, you know. Some of my friends just refuse to learn how to use them, and if I want to write to them, what them? The courier companies charge so much to deliver things that folks my age can’t afford them. Besides, I enjoy writing, I always have, you know, ever since I was a child”. “I don’t suppose you have anything that I could deliver for you?” asked Ted expectantly. “As a matter of fact, I do…”. As Ted walked up the path to the front door, he reached into his coat pocket and pulled out the letter. In most of the dozens of places he’d visited on his “walkabout”, he had delivered a letter for a total stranger to another total stranger. Between working a couple of odd-jobs, and getting a meal from almost all of his “customers”, he had managed to stay on the road for almost six months before running out of money. But it was time to go home. He looked at the address on the envelope, as he had many times over the past week, and smiled. “This is just too funny”, he thought. “Talk about fate. Wait ’til Jack hears how this whole trip ended”. He rang the doorbell. As the door opened, he smiled again, held out the envelope, and said, “Hi, Gram. Here’s your mail”.