Arnold and Esther Letson know a thing or two about West Montrose – they’ve been delivering its mail for 56 years.
Born in the home he and Esther now reside in, Arnold Letson continued the tradition of tending to the family farm – three generations of Letsons have worked the land there – as soon as he reached adolescence. He and Esther still look after the farm today.
Arnold’s knowledge of the local area grew profoundly when he turned 16 and took on another family tradition: working for Canada Post as a mail deliverer.
Some 56 years later, Arnold and Esther, who joined forces with her husband shortly after they were married in 1966, know the area like the back of their hands, but now it will be up to others to learn the ropes: the couple retired from service with Canada Post last week, and was honoured by their peers for years of dedicated, friendly service.
“I would love to actually talk about them for two to three hours – they’re fabulous people,” said Elmira post office superintendent Peter Cowie. “They’re incredible people, great workers, always a pleasure to work with, and will be missed by Canada Post and all of their customers.”
After so many decades of service, the couple has become something of an institution locally. But when he first started as a young teenager, Arnold had no idea about the path his career would take.
“Never once are you thinking that you’d be at it so many years,” said Arnold, who followed in his father’s footsteps at the age of 16.
Esther, who is originally from St. Jacobs, and Arnold met in her hometown and married 43 years ago. A short while later, Esther joined her husband on his daily mail route that took them from the now defunct West Montrose post office through Winterbourne, right down to Crowsfoot Road.
Right from the get-go the couple, who will continue to work together on the family farm, realized there was a special connection between husband and wife, a certain chemistry that made working together – in addition to living and tending the farm together – not only a possibility but a great pleasure.
“We just clicked,” Esther said.
“We get along very well,” added Arnold, after some playful banter with his wife.
For many years, Esther and Arnold looked after the Winterbourne route – known as “route two.” Then, some 25 years ago, their workload doubled as they took on an extra route (route one) that would take them through the village of West Montrose, on Middlebrook Road, plus the outskirts of the village. Together, the two routes accounted for some 90 kilometres and about 480 households. The addition of the second route doubled the Letsons’ workload.
“With the two routes it was a two-person job; it needed teamwork, it needed two of us,” said Arnold.
“It was a must,” added Esther.
On a typical day, the Letsons arose at 5:30 a.m. and were in the Elmira post office by 7. After a total of some 90 kilometres of covered ground, they were free by around 3 p.m. to tend to their West Montrose farm.
“It was pretty rough,” Arnold chuckled. “A lot of long days.”
In the 56 years that Arnold has worked for Canada Post, and Esther’s 42, the couple estimates that they have driven 1.5 million miles.
“And worn out several vehicles,” Arnold quipped.
The fact that the Letsons lived in the area they served, meant that the two came to know their neighbours and surroundings really well.
Arnold and Esther became more than their mail deliverers: often lending a helping hand along with the mail. If a farmer’s animal got loose, the couple would stop the car and get out to help round up the animal.
That contact with the residents is something the two will miss.
“Some people on the mail route never knew anybody as a mail person other than Arnold. He was a permanent fixture in their life,” said Esther.
Arnold said he’ll truly miss being “out and about” and meeting the locals while on his runs.
“He loved it immensely,” said Esther.
“Just don’t ask if I liked it in the wintertime,” she quipped.
Joking aside, the Letsons delivered the mail rain, snow or shine.
“On a stormy day people would say, ‘oh, boy, how can you take this?’ I guess my comment was often that it’s just another day when you’ve been doing it that many years; it’s just another day of doing it, bad weather didn’t bother me,” said Arnold.
Both Esther and Arnold will also greatly miss being outdoors on the road in the rural areas.
“One thing that I enjoyed was the nature part of the trip – the things we used to see,” said Esther, counting regular sightings of defiant coyotes, foxes, wild turkeys and deer with their fawns in tow as definite perks of the job.
Now retired, the two will certainly have more time on their hands. But a lot of extra time doesn’t equate to a holiday in the sun at some tropical destination.
“We’re away every day, we’re on holiday everyday, we have a holiday every day doing the mail,” said Arnold with a chuckle. “That’s been our vacation for many years.”
In the ensuing weeks the couple will tend to their cash crops. After that, however, the industrious pair plan to take life a little easier.
“We’ll just take it a day at a time and spend more time with family and friends,” said Esther.