Clocking off at NZ Post
The age of post is passing us by.
Once, I would wait on words from my penpal and sit in the front lounge, tuned to the mail box for days. By the time I was 20-something my bills came by email and the letters dissolved. And now, the post does little for me. It's an old tune.
My grandmother knew her postie. At Christmas time, she put a letter in her mailbox addressed TO THE POSTIE. Inside was a card that read "thank you for your service" and slipped inside that card was a one pound note.
Before her, my great grandfather wrote letters to Croatia and his mailbox was the medium between his life and his family, a lifetime away.
In 1970 Olive Cassidy became a postie, delivering mail to the Melville area. There were 595.4 million items posted in New Zealand that year to a population of 2.8 million.
She remembers Christmas time when she lavished mailboxes with gifts and letters. There were that many coming through the post, she had to start early to sort them all. People would come out to the front lawn and ask her in for a Christmas drink.
One year her co-worker said yes a few too many times and made his way back to the post office drunk.
She got to know the people in her area. Who was too sick, who was too old, who couldn't walk to clear the mail, and she would lean her bike up and take it inside. Her hands holding letters, holding parcels, her hands the medium between inside and out.
She says they wouldn't allow posties to do that now.
My house was built in the letter-writing era. From the front steps, a small path runs down the middle of the grass and leads straight to the mailbox. It seems quaint now. It's crusted with rust and takes muscle to open.
In March it got knocked to the ground by happy O-weekers and its never recovered from the blow. It leans to one side. I check its contents every other day. Sometimes less. Sometimes it gets so cluttered with mail there are letters scattered on the lawn.
My bank statements, messages from friends holidaying somewhere exotic, love letters from my husband - they all happen by phone and email.
The letterbox is a falling leaf and I look at handwritten mail that's stowed away in a box somewhere and I feel nostalgic. I know generations to come won't recognise handwriting, won't have the thrill of retrieving a letter in the post, of touching paper.
It's good, in its way. Saving paper.
"Oh well," Olive says, "I suppose it is. But it's sad. It's the end of an era - you can't go back now."
When she started work as a postie, a standard stamp cost three cents. She had been working as a cleaner at the hospital until the hours changed and she couldn't work it in with raising her six kids. A couple of months later she looked out the kitchen window and saw a large woman delivering mail and thought: "If she can do it . . ."
Olive Cassidy worked on the bike for 12 years before deciding it was time to head inside, where she has worked nights ever since. She takes care of the
mail as you sleep. Her hands have been permanently marked. Her thumbs curve outwards thanks to decades of sorting envelopes. She's 80 now. In September, she will have worked at New Zealand Post for 45 years.
Nothing feels different, this being 80, except, she says: "I used to be able to climb the roof at home and I can't now."
Her shift runs from midnight till 7.40am. Five nights a week. She leaves work to travel to Glenview and pick up her grandson, then take him to school, then picks him up again at three.
Last year, she celebrated 60 years married. John Key wrote her a letter and she saw it when she was sorting through the mail. She's not supposed to intercept the post, but if it looks important, her team leader will let her open the odd thing.
She's never been much of a letter writer herself, but she relies on post as the point of contact. She doesn't own a cellphone, or a computer.
A year ago, New Zealand Post announced it would be closing its mail centres in Waikato, Wellington and Dunedin. Five hundred jobs will go. "We had a feeling, because of the volume of the mail," says Olive.
In June, employees at the Duke St mail centre were told 90 jobs would be cut by October. Olive Cassidy will be one of them. She'll miss the people most.
"It's quite sad," she says. "Because you still see people go out and look in their letterbox. There's an old lady that lives opposite us, she's always out looking in her mailbox. She can barely walk, but she still checks the mailbox."
My mailbox is only there because it always has been. When I retrieve letters, I rip them open ungratefully and regard them, generally, as waste.
I watch Olive on the night shift and notice the care she takes with each item that passes through her fingers. Sometimes she'll pause to look at pictures on postcards of places she's never been and will never go.
Letters addressed in a scribble are given to Olive to decipher and she will see that they get to you.
In the last financial year, there were 771.5 million items sent by post. Volume is declining rapidly. Between 2002 and 2012 the number of mail items fell from 1.1 billion to 834.5 million.
We have lost the connection to pieces of paper delivered from one hand to another. Something is lost, more than a medium.