By Jim Bissett and Sarah Marino, The Dominion Post
MORGANTOWN — Mark Cappellini grinned when he saw the festooned mail truck.
“Is today it?” he asked. “Are you really doing it, this time?”
“Sure am,” Patty Cress said. “I’ve got the signs to prove it.”
One of her granddaughters hand-lettered the signs, which were affixed to the U.S. Postal Service vehicle.
“Finally, my retirement has been delivered,” read the one in front.
“Patty’s Farewell Tour,” announced the other from the back.
“Well, you know we’re gonna miss you,” Brenda Cappellini said.
The husband and wife are on Cress’ mail route in the Suncrest area.
Cress has run the route for more than 20 years.
The Cappellinis have lived on the route for more than 20 years.
“She watched our kids grow up,” Brenda Cappellini said.
“She’s seen our cars when they had dents in the fenders after our kids started learning how to drive.”
“Yeah, and she’s seen the yard when it’s shabby and full of dandelions,” added Mark Cappellini, who was mowing that day.
Then, the couple did something else. They presented the mail carrier with an envelope addressed to her. It was a thank-you card for her service.
Like the signs on the truck said, Cress really is retiring.
‘You get to know your people’
Wednesday was the final postmark in a 44-year career. Next up: Trips across the country to see her kids and across the Atlantic Ocean to visit her grandmother’s relatives in Italy.
“I’ve been threatening to do this for years,” Cress said, as she continued dropping mail through slots and in boxes.
Retirement, that is.
Which is what Mark Cappellini was getting at.
He and his wife said they’ll really miss the mail carrier for her nurturing presence. She once called an ambulance for a man on her route who collapsed and went into a diabetic coma.
She called the police on another man she’d never seen along her route who was photographing houses in the middle of the day.
“You get to know your people,” Cress said.
The mail carrier, who grew up in Morgantown, graduated from the former St. Francis Catholic High School. She attended college briefly, and soon found herself married, with three young children.
Then, she found herself divorced, with three young children.
She needed a job with a decent paycheck and benefits. A civil service job fit the bill.
‘A man’s job’ … (and other pranks)
In the Aquarian year of 1969, she got hired by the Morgantown Post Office.
It wasn’t all hippie peace and love, she remembered.
Some of her co-workers, in fact, were hostile to the idea of a woman working shoulder-to-shoulder with them.
“They said, ‘If she wants a man’s job, she has to be able to do a man’s work,’” Cress remembered. In this case, that meant a diminutive woman wrestling with 100-pound sacks of mail.
And boxes brimming with products from Avon and catalogue items from Sears.
It meant missing school plays and other events, since the mail must go through, and one doesn’t dare call off.
But, it also meant steady work — even if she had to sue once for harassment, a case she won.
And as the chauvinism subsided, things got better.
Now, the only barbs she gets are good-natured ones, concerning her age.
Cress is looking forward to her 71st birthday next month. She doesn’t address herself as “old,” by any means, but she is one of the more senior members of the Morgantown Post Office.
Forget wisdom. In her work-world, age is accompanied by pranks.
Which is why she howled with laughter during one of her birthday parties a couple of years back.
Her cake with its lit candles was accompanied by a co-worker with a fire extinguisher, should all those burning fixtures suddenly take an incendiary turn.
While we’re at it, did you know Cress was personally hired for her post office gig by Ben Franklin himself?
And that she hand-fed oats to all the horses resting from their Pony Express routes?
“That’s the kind of stuff I’ve been putting up with for years,” she said, laughing.
“I could tell you a lot more stories but you wouldn’t be about to print them in your newspaper,” she said. “I’d have to change the names to protect the guilty.”
The prankee tried to pull one on her pranksters Wednesday.
She had told her co-workers that May 1 was her last day.
They threw a retirement party — no fire extinguisher, this time — and everything.
“Then, I was going to come in this morning with a big speech,” she said.
“I was gonna tell them I couldn’t leave. Then when they believed me, I was gonna come back with the decorated truck at the end of the day.”
She got found out, though.
“Oh, well,” she said. “What are you gonna do?”
Just the stellar job she’s always done, said Brian Clayton, a fellow mail carrier who helps her with the bigger packages she mostly delivers along Collins Ferry Road.
That’s what he did Wednesday.
He idled his mail truck next to her mail truck and asked, “Does this mean I only get one day when I retire?”
Clayton delivered well-wishes also.
“Oh, yeah, Patty,” he said. “Best mail carrier ever. Write that down.”
“Slowest mail carrier ever,” snorted John Cavalier, her St. Francis classmate who lives a couple of houses down from the Cappallenis.
“She’s too busy talking to people. It’s gonna take her two days to get this route done.”
Cress, a few more houses down now, was laughing and handing over mail to another neighbor, who, in turn, offered a hug and an envelope.
Call it a special delivery of thanks.