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
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
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: