Remembering His Father as Post-Master and Other Mail Related Experiences – Bill Arp, 1884
Two cents-only 2 cents. When I look at a postage stamp it carries me away back. Back to the-time
when my father was post-master and I was his clerk, and had to make up the mails in a country town.
The difference between now and then shows the world’s progress its a privilege awl a pleasure that
is hardly excelled in any other branch of improvement. We couldn’t bear to be set back again in that
line to the old ways that our fathers thought were pretty good. There were no stamps and no envelopes,
and no nucilage. The paper was folded up like a thumb-paper, and one side slipped in the other and
sealed with a wafer. The little schoolboys, you know, had to use thumb papers in their spelling-books
to keep them clean where their dirty thumbs kept the pages open. Girls didn’t have to use them, for
they were nicer and kept their hands clean and didn’t wear out the leaves by the friction of their fingers.
Boys are rough things anyhow, and I don’t see what a nice, sweet, clean, pretty girl wants with one of
’em. Girls they say are made of sugar and spice and all that’s nicei but boys are made of snaps and
snails and puppy dogs tails. Jusephus, says, that when the queen of Sheba was testing Solomon’s
wisdom, she had fifty boys and fifty girls all dressed alike in girls’ clothes and seated around a big
room, and asked the king to pick out the boys from the girls, and he miled for a basin of water and had
it carried around to each one and told them to wash their hands. The girls all rolled up their sleeves
a little bit, but the boys just sloshed their hands in any way and got water all over their aprons, and
so the king spotted every mother’s son of ’em. The postage used to be regulated by the distance
that Uncle Sam carried the letters.
It was 12 1/2 cents anywhere in the state, and I8 3/4 cents to Charleston, and 25 cents to New York. It
was never prepaid. A man could afflict another with a pistareen letter that wasn’t worth 5 cents. A
pistareen, you know, was 18 3/4 cents-that is a 7 pence and a thrip. We had no dimes or half dimes.
The dollar was cut up into eighths instead of tenths. When a countryman called for letters and got
one he would look at it some time and turn it over and meditate before he paid for it, and very often
they would say, “Where did this letter come from?” Well, I would say for instance, “It come from
Dahlonega dont you see Dahlonega written up on the corner” Then he would say. “Well, I reckon it’s
from Dick, my brother Dick. He is up there digging gold. Dont you reckon , it’s from Dick?” “I reckon
it is,” said I. “Why dont you open it and see?” “No, I’ll wait until I get home. They’ll all want to see
it” When he got home the letter would be an event in the family, and perhaps it would take them a
half an hour to wade through it and make out its contents. Nine out of ten of those country letters
began, “I take my pen in hand to let you know that I am well, and hope these few lines will find
you enjoying the same blessing.” My father kept store, and his country customers used to ask him
to write their letters for them, and he always sent them to me, and most of them told me to begin
their letters that way. There WAS not more than one in five could write, but they were good, clever,
honest people, and paid their debts, but they hardly ever paid up in full at the end of the year and
so they gave their notes for the balance and made their mark. My father used to say that he had
known cases where a man swore off his written signature, but he never knew a man to deny his
Our big northern mail used to come in a stage from Madison twice a week, and I used to think
the sound of the stage horse as the stage came over the hill was one of the sublimest things in
the world, and I thought that if I ever got to be a man I would be a stage driver if I could. Well, .
I come pretty near it, for my father had hired a man to ride the mail to Roswell and back twice
a week, and the man got sick and so my father put me on a drumedary. of a horse and the mail
in some saddle-bags behind me, and I had to make the forty-eight miles in a day and kept it up
all winter. I liked to have froze several times, and had to be lifted off the horse when I got home
and it nearly broke my mother’s heart, but I was getting a dollar a trip and it was my money, and
so I wouldn’t back out The old women on the route used to crowd me with their little commissions
and get me to bring them a little pepper, or copperas, or bluing, or pins and noodles, or get me
to take along socks and sell them, and so I made friends and acquaintances all the way. The
first trip I made, an old woman hailed me and said, “Are you a mail boy?”-Why, yes, main,” said
I, you didn’t think I was a female boy, did you?” I thought that was mighty smart, but it wasn’t very
civil and it made her so mad she never told me what she wanted, and as she turned her back on
me I heard her “my,-I’ll bet he is a little stuck up town boy.” My father was post-master for nearly
thirty years. It didn’t pay more than about $203 a year, but it made his store more of a public place.
He didn’t know that anybody else hankered after it or was trying to get it, but all of a sudden he
got his orders to turn over the office to another man, an old line Whig and a competitor in business.
It mortified him very much and made us all mad, for there was no fault found with his management,
and he never took much interest in politics, but voted for the man he liked the best whether he was
a Whig or a Democrat. When he found out that Alek Stephens had it done he wasn’t a Stephens
man any more, and I grew up with an idea that Mr. Stephens was a political fraud.
I didn’t understand the science of politics as well as I do now, I told Mr. Stephens about it one night
in Milledgeville when we were all in a good humor and were talking about the old times of Whigs and
Democrats, and he smiled and said “Yes, we had to do those things, and sometimes they were very
Last Updated on February 24, 2021 by Bill Arp
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