BURLEY — Many residents never got the chance to learn her name — but they recognized her friendly face as she delivered their bills, packages, love letters and tons of junk mail for 35 years.
Burley’s first female city mail carrier, Brenda James, is set to retire on July 31.
“I absolutely love my job,” James said, whose seniority over the years led her to a “mounted route” in a truck, a route which is also one of the largest — at about 1,000 addresses. “The thing I’m going to miss the most about this job are the people and the animals that I see every day. The dogs, especially, are the highlight of my day.”
Customer Linda Esplin said James was always “very pleasant.”
“She always had something pleasant to say if you met her at the mailbox,” Esplin said. “She always had a smile on her face and I never saw her in a bad mood.”
James had also cared to inquire about the name and breed of her and Esplin’s husband, Roe Esplin’s, Lhaso apso dog, Missie.
“She’s so friendly,” customer Mary Lopez said. “She always comments to my husband about the yard and the flowers. That’s too bad she’s retiring.”
Over the course of three and a half decades James watched children grow up and have children of their own, she saw them move and saw them die.
“The saddest thing that ever happened was when I delivered the cremated remains of a woman’s husband to her and she didn’t know they were coming by mail,” James said. “She just collapsed and said she thought they would go to the funeral home. That was one of the worst things that ever happened.”
James was “not long” out of high school when she started delivering mail on a walking route.
“I would have my mailbag full and they would strap more bundles of mail on that and then I’d have an armful of mail and I’d set out,” James said.
At that time the city carriers would pick up more mail along the way, which was dropped off in locked army-green boxes placed around the city, and at other pick-up locations.
Tom Fisher, now retired, was a Burley mailman when James entered the city workforce.
“There were some females on rural routes at the time but she was the first one in the city,” Fisher said. “It was a big change because it was a male-dominated place. She had a rough time and they gave her all the crappy jobs. But, she was tough and she hung in there.”
One of the most common questions she got in the beginning was what do people call a woman carrier — instead of mailman, she said.
“I’d tell them, I don’t care what you call me as long as it’s nice,” James said.
James recalls figuring out the idiosyncrasies of each resident’s mail delivery on that first route in the 1980s, which at one house meant putting the mail in an opening where a brick was missing.
“On a walking route you get in shape quickly,” James said, about the job which put the carrier into whatever conditions Mother Nature dished out that day.
“In my truck during the summer it gets to 112 degrees Fahrenheit,” she said. It once reached 115 degrees and her truck does not have air conditioning.
Some customers would give her a cup of ice or offer her cookies.
“One lady made me a hat to keep me warm,” she said. “The people in this area have always been so good to me.”
Did she prefer delivering mail in summer or winter?
“Definitely when it’s cooler because you can always put more clothing on but there’s only so much you can take off legally,” James said.
She also watched the postal system become automated over the years. When she first started she had trays of mail she had to sort into the order of delivery each day. Now most of it is presorted.
A second back surgery in December was the harbinger for James that it was time to retire.
“When I retire I plan on doing absolutely nothing,” James said. “But if I do get a part-time job it will definitely be inside and with air conditioning.”