James retires

Patricia James, longtime city mail carrier, delivers mail on her last route through town.

Patricia James retires after 30+ years on the route

Not many people can claim to have driven nearly 300,000 miles over the course of their career, but Patricia James can.

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night” kept James from completing her route  — and keeping the post office creed  — as a Blackshear mail carrier for more than 30 years. The blistering heat of summer was James’ most common foe, but she even battled through snow, her mail truck slipping and sliding, a few times.

James retired in May, clocking out after 35 years and one week with the United States Post Office. She started her career at the Waycross post office in 1984, but moved to Blackshear a short time later and became a full-time carrier January 1, 1987.

“I feel like I grew up on the mail route,” James says with a laugh.

James traveled her 36 mile route around town five days a week (minus vacation time), delivering to 700-900 boxes each day for approximately 32 years, but her dream job almost didn’t happen.

“That’s the thing  — I never really chose this,” she says.

It chose her.

She stumbled into her career because a friend encouraged her to take the post office exam. She’d nearly forgotten about it when, three years later, the post office called her in for an interview. James took a job sorting mail just eight weeks after her first son was born and the rest is history.

When James first began sorting mail it was all done by hand. She recalls post office officials telling employees one day they would take the mail straight to the street  — no need to sort.

“Never thought I would see that,” she says.

But, she did.

A lot has changed about mail delivery in the last 30 years, mostly due to automation and advances in technology. Paper mail volume has decreased significantly as people pay more bills online and cancel statement printouts, but package volume is up thanks to mammoth one-stop-shop companies like Amazon.

The mechanics of her job changed, postmasters came and went, she had good days and bad days on the route, but the people James served didn’t change all that much.

“There’s a lot that has changed, but my people haven’t changed. I love my people,” she says.

Her “people” are why James kept at it for so many years. She’ll miss them most of all.

In her early years on the job, many of the stops along her route were walk up  — she’d have to take the mail up to a box on the porch or hand deliver it to someone. James made friends with the folks she saw every day. They shared their lives with each other. She loved them, and they loved her back. Many along her route became like family, sharing in the joys of her children as they grew up, too.

James worked up until the day she gave birth to her second son  — she nearly had him on the route.  A lady on her route was convinced James would have the baby on her birthday and it almost happened. Chance was born either the day before or after the lady’s birthday, and she never forgot. She mailed Chance a birthday card addressed to “Master Chance James” every year until her death.

James quickly picked up on the habits of those who lived along her route. One man was always eating a banana on his front porch when James brought the mail. Another never wore anything but overalls. Some locals would leave a goodie bag of treats in the box for James.

“There’s little things about them you remember,” James says.

It’s been 30+ years, but she can still connect a last name with an address.

For elderly residents along the route James was often the only person they spoke with during the day. One lady still living alone in her 90s kept a gun in her apron pocket to ward off trespassers. James would always call out loudly, announcing herself so as not to alarm the woman and risk being shot. Visiting nurses were scared to go there though, James recalls.

Local mail carriers see and hear a lot along their route. Sometimes they even get caught in the crosshairs of a neighborhood dispute. That happened to James once. It was a day she won’t forget.

“I opened the mailbox one day and there was a snake in it,” she recalls.

A resident later apologized, claiming the black snake wasn’t meant for James at all.

The occasional snake in a mailbox or gun-wielding little old lady kept James’ job interesting over the years. Her most common struggle though was the heat of summer. Last year almost did her in, James says.

She’s especially thankful for a family on Oak Street who helped James out on the hot days.  One day last year she found a frozen Powerade in the box. She took it and left a thank you note.

“After that I had one every day,” she says.

James was true to the post office motto. She delivered mail in thunderstorms with lightning striking all around. Those metal mailboxes made her nervous.

In January 2018 James even completed her route in a snow storm. A Heritage Village resident took a photo of James standing in the snow and mailed it to her.

She tears up talking about “her people” along the route, but she’ll miss many of her co-workers, too. James, Alvin Kicklighter and Dwight Aldridge all started working for the post office in the mid-80s.  They raised their families together, offering advice and encouragement when needed, and reminding each other of their anniversaries.

“When you work with somebody for 30 years you become family,” Aldridge says.

“She was one of the ones who made it a pleasure to come to work every day,” Kicklighter says.  “A lot of times she was the glue that held things together for us.”

Blistering heat, rain, sleet or snow James kept everyone on task at the post office, and delivered the mail, too. She’ll be missed.