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Texas | Columns | "Texas Tales"

The Postman
Rang More Than Twice
in Karnack

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox

When Clarence Lafayette Fason retired from what was then the U.S. Post Office Department, he surely received gifts, perhaps a certificate or plaque and doubtless a federal retirement check for the rest of his life.

But Fason gave back as well in deciding to write a recollection of his half-century as a mail carrier in rural East Texas. Even better, someone had the good sense to include the piece in the printed program distributed at his retirement ceremony. That event occurred on Aug. 31, 1969 in Karnack, a small community in northeastern Harrison County best known as the hometown of Lady Bird Johnson.

"In an age when a person may sit in his own living room and watch a space flight 238,000 miles from Earth," Fason began, "it is difficult to realize the importance of mail delivery to rural Americans in the early 1900's to whom news traveled slowly since they had no access to telephones, newspapers or radios." Of course, he forgot to mention television.

In 1919, Fason explained, the Post Office Department (it didn't become the U.S. Postal Service until 1971) turned down a petition signed by numerous Karnack-area residents seeking establishment of a rural mail route. World War One had only been over a short time, and the federal powers that were had their collective eye on the drain on the Treasury that had occurred.

But the government did agree to begin a three-times-a-week Star route with postal box delivery. The person picking up the mail would be an independent contractor. Fason bid on the job and won a $75-a-month contract effective Sept. 15, 1919. He had just turned 20.

At first he made his rounds in a two-wheeled, mule-drawn cart called a jig, but before long he switch to horse and buggy.

Fason lived up to the old saw that the mail must go through.

"On extremely cold days," he wrote, "I would heat brick and wrap them in burlap. When the heat was gone, I would run along beside the cart to keep warm."

Sometimes it got so bad he stopped by the side of what passed for a road and built a fire-assuming he could find dry wood.

"Many times I would return half-frozen and could hardly walk," he recalled.

Great progress came in 1922 when he got an automobile. Even so, the roads had not yet been paved and any time a heavy rain fell he frequently had to find a farmer with a mule to extricate his vehicle from mud holes.

In 1930, as the nation's economic depression worsened, he took the federal civil service test and got hired as a government employee. His monthly pay was $90, but when the regular rural route he now had became daily, his salary doubled to $180. That was good money back then.

Realizing he was darned fortunate to even have a job, he went above and beyond what the government paid him to do.

"I have delivered groceries and medicine, set clocks, held babies, and taken verbal messages 'down the road' to a relative or friend," he wrote. "I have met trains and buses at all hours and brought [postal] patrons home who had no other means of transportation. When letters would come from the boys in service, I would give several long, loud blasts with the car horn and they would come running. When a letter came indicating...bad news, I would deliver the message to the door and offer my condolences."

Not that the folks on his route did not show their appreciation.

"I have found in the mailbox homegrown fruit, watermelons, vegetables, fish, candy and cakes," he wrote. On the other hand, "young pranksters" sometimes placed things in the mailbox calculated to give him a little surprise. Over the years, he'd found snakes, lizards, frogs, turtles, raccoons and possums.

Sometimes customers believed he could do more for them than he could. Once a woman met him at her mailbox holding a chicken by its tied feet and asked him to mail it to her sister in Dallas. Then there was the time a woman left him a note that read, "Mail man, I have a young baby please bring it out tomorrow."

By the time he retired, Fason served more than 1,500 patrons along his 75.10-mile daily route.

Seventy when he delivered his last piece of mail, Fason only got to enjoy six years of retirement. He died on July 20, 1976 and is buried in Oscar Hope Cemetery.

But that would be too sad an ending to his story. A better way to finish is to reprint the poem he wrote at the end of his swan song:

"For 50 years I've carried the mailings
Through sunshine, ran and cold.
No matter what I would like to think,
I know that I'm getting old.
Of course I go for what I get,
I must stay in style.
But it's friends like you,
That are kind and true,
That make it all worth while."

Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" March 28, 2018 column
An award-winning author of more than 30 non-fiction books, Mike Cox is an elected member of the Texas Institute of Letters. A long-time freelance writer and public speaker, he lives near Wimberley in the Hill Country. To read about more his work, visit his website at mikecoxauthor.com. He can be contacted at texasmikecox@gmail.com.


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