ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — After nearly three hours at work, Morris Hall brushed his fingers over a cabinet of sorting cubbies to make sure he didn’t overlook a stray envelope. He was about to head out of the Postal Service plant off Riva Road to begin his day.
But one gets a sense that after 50 years of sorting and bundling for the same Eastport mail route, Hall wouldn’t miss a stitch – he just gets a bit of satisfaction from hearing the clackity-clack of the empty metal partitions like an old-fashioned washboard.
It was only 10 o’clock in the morning on a Thursday. Hall had a long day of walking in front of him, so there was no time to waste. Rain would soon be welling up in the roads and flooding over the Bay Ridge Avenue sidewalks.
No matter. It was sure to be a good day, because they’re all pretty good days.
Turning 80 on recently, Hall, a wispy-white haired man with a sturdy frame, credits the job as his fountain of youth.
And although friends and coworkers have encouraged the octogenarian to trade his walking route for a clerk position – maybe give his feet a rest in an office – that just wouldn’t sit well.
“That would bore me to death,” he said. “I really think this is what keeps you alive. You retire, go home and sit in a chair, you’re dead.”
Hall’s route includes 397 boxes, which cover much of Bay Ridge and Fairview avenues, including the Eastport Shopping Center and the Severn House community.
After driving away from the plant, he turned up the radio to listen to his hillbilly music. He fell into his usual groove by parking his van on a nearby cross street, dropping the mail at all of the customers on a block, then looping back to the van to refill his tattered blue canvas bag.
The age of his satchel might almost rival his own.
“It has to have a hole in the bottom for them to give you a new one,” he said.
That’s a sign of the times, as Hall recalls a day when First-Class Mail, penned letters to friends and family, was king. The Postal Service’s profits have dwindled considerably over the years, and finances have gotten tight.
Hall cracked a slight smile at the irony of dropping off a bit of mail at the Postal Express, a business that offers Fed Ex services. Private-sector mail enterprises have all but squashed the federally initiated Postal Service program.
He laments how the industry has changed and remembers the glory days. When he was a child growing up in Arnold, his mother would send off 500 or so Christmas cards each year. That would be unheard of today, Hall said.
“Now a card will run you at least a dollar, and a stamp is 44 cents, and by then you’ve already put a good bit of money into it,” he said. “That could make you cut down on your friends real fast.”
The mailman in blue
Hall has been married to his job only two years less than to his wife, Maria, who shares their West Annapolis home.
He loved his wife, but work was another thing.
Before he joined the postal service, he was in the Air Force. When he returned home, his mother, who had a friend working at the post office, urged him to march right down there himself and ask for a job.
“I said, ‘Mom, I wouldn’t be caught dead in the post office.’ “
It wasn’t that Hall had something against the institution, but that he had his heart set on another career. Because of a height requirement, Hall says he was just three-quarters of an inch shy of his dream of becoming a state police officer. So instead he dabbled as a clerk in a stationery store, foreman for a plastics manufacturer and life insurance salesman, before finally coming around to his mother’s advice.
Priscilla Cressman, Hall’s manager who has worked with him since 1981, said Hall remains on the overtime list, and would work 10 hours per day if they’d allow him.
“He wants to come in on his days off. He does this for the exercise,” she said. “Sometimes he forgets to cash his paychecks.”
Cressman said most other mail carriers loathe Hall’s route if they’ve ever had to sub for him. It’s a lot of walking, and filling boxes for multi-unit complexes can become tedious.
In his career, Hall has only spent a three-day stint on another route in the Bay Ridge area. It was a driving route, and pumping his foot on the pedals all day inflamed his arthritic knee.
Walking was a hell of a lot easier.
He puts even veteran mailmen to shame in terms of seniority. Harry Pannell remembers when he first became a mailman, other coworkers had warned him to steer clear of three gruff mail carriers in Eastport, one of whom was Hall.
“Turns out they were just three old fogeys who thought they ran the Postal Service. And that was 30 years ago,” Pannell chuckled. “He’s a mailman’s mailman. An old-time mailman who knows how to do his job and get things done.”
But Heather Armstrong, a young mail carrier who fills in on his route when it’s Hall’s day off, said don’t be conned by his quiet demeanor.
“He’s a dirty old man,” she teased. Armstrong refers to Hall as “Grandpa,” but even that nickname has a bawdy back story: One time she reminded Hall that he was old enough to be her grandfather, to which he swiftly rebutted, “Well then just call me Poppy,” she said. She chose Grandpa instead.
Hall, in fact, likes blue humor. Nothing wrong with that. His friends have a hard time finding a clean story to tell about him. They tilt their eyes to the ceiling, laugh, then say, “Naw, I don’t suppose I can tell that one.”
After all, this is a man who enjoys motoring off on the Bad Influence, his 36-foot boat, to catch rockfish on his days off.
But he can take it just like he dishes it. Jackie Postlethwait, a woman who works in the Eastport Post Office, rags him for his reputation.
“He’s got all the ladies panting after him,” she said. “They just cannot wait for the weather to get warm when he starts wearing shorts. They say he’s got the best legs in all of Eastport.”
Familiar faces, places
The rain began to pelt, so Hall zipped up his slicker to keep trudging. He had all of the Severn House residents to get to.
There was the woman who waited for him at the top of a stairs landing, whom Hall handed a bundle to directly. “She’s lost about 15 keys to her box.” Then there was the woman who wasn’t home but he placed her mail in a basket on her door anyway instead of in her box. “She’s in a wheelchair.”
He makes these special exceptions because he knows his people, not because it’s asked of him.
The neighborhood is what keeps the route interesting and comforting. Hall has delivered mail to men and women who have come and gone, then delivered to their children who have their own families now. Some young adults are shocked to see him continue to walk the beat, a subtle reminder of how long he’s been working and how old he is.
“I think the biggest thing that makes you happy are the people you meet,” Hall said, “and that’s also sometimes the bad part of the job – when you see people who you’ve seen every day die – because they become like family.”
Just like a grade-school child who’s asked what his favorite subject is, Hall’s favorite part of the workday is “lunch”. But he doesn’t eat hardly anything. A bag of chips and a Coke is enough of a caloric boost to keep him going for the rest of the afternoon. He doesn’t like to walk on a full stomach.
It’s the company he keeps at his regular spot, Eastport Deli, which makes it a good time. Peggy Thompson, an old friend who is now a widow, is one who sometimes joins him. She and her late husband ate with Hall for years, and when her spouse passed away, Hall helped around the house.
“He’s a very kind, young man,” Thompson said, teasing him just a touch. “I don’t think you’ll find a more steady or more loyal person.”
Hall is senior in years, and with a big birthday around the corner a lot of folks have been asking him for a bit of wisdom. Doling out his own advice isn’t Hall’s nature. Instead, he proffers some words from long ago, something someone else once told him that sounds about right.
Back in his Air Force days, he had a good buddy whose mother told him, “Son, fly as high as you can, but always keep one foot on the ground.”
Today, Hall remembers those words clearly, as he continues each step in his black, standard-issue mail carrier shoes with thick rubber soles. Those feet have taken him miles and miles. How many? Who knows.
When folks ask Hall when he plans to retire, he’ll tell them maybe in eight years. But everybody knows it’s a joke. The man isn’t going to retire.
The job’s just too good.
“I really never changed jobs that much if I could get one.”
Information from: The Capital of Annapolis, Md., http://www.hometownannapolis.com/
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)