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32 years goes by in a flash (or two)
SUQUAMISH — Most kids dream of being a firefighter, a teacher or a veterinarian when they grow up.
And when Liz Kaufman, Suquamish’s Postmaster for the last 20 years, was in junior high, she knew exactly what she wanted to do. But her grown-up career dream was definitely not the norm.
She wanted to be a U.S. Postal Service Postmaster.
“I grew up on a farm and one neighbor was like a grandfather and in the early 1900’s he had a rural mail carrier route with a horse and buggy and he used to tell me stories,” Kaufman said. “I really wanted to be a vet until I realized I faint at the sight of blood and hearing those (postal) stories is how I decided working for the Postal Service might be something I was interested in.”
Kaufman graduated high school in 1976 and enrolled in the Women’s Army Corps. She selected military postal clerk as her job.
She loved it.
“When I was getting out of high school, the reality was if you hung to that job you would retire from it,” Kaufman recalled. “At that time I thought I could be a federal employee and I could have a career and at 55, retire.”
So she did.
Kaufman, 50, has spent 32 years in the blue uniform with an eagle emblem near the left shoulder, working for the U.S Postal Service.
Although she’s not yet 55, Kaufman is retiring. Her last day assisting and joking with customers from behind the counter in Suquamish is March 31.
Even the postal service isn’t safe from the economic chaos — it must cut its approximate 670,000 work force by 15-20 percent. Kaufman and about 9,000 other postal workers volunteered for the first round of the Voluntary Early Retirement Authority.
This social lady, who laughs often and isn’t shy to tell a story or two, will sorely miss working with the patrons she has seen daily for the last 20 years, and will greatly miss her life as a postmaster.
Listening to a few of her memories and stories one can easily see why she was lured to the field by stories of a similar sort and why she’ll miss sorting thousands of letters into various hundreds of bins.
To say the least, the last 32 years were never boring. She’s sorted years of “Dear Santa,” letters, she worked through the Unabomber and anthrax scares — she was rattled by neither — she’s heard stories ranging from breakups to babies. She’s seen a bit more of some of her postal customers than she’d have liked, as she was flashed a time or two, and she even had the satisfaction of helping an adopted child find her birth mother.
After leaving the military Kaufman was hired as a route carrier in Yakima. It was there some of her customers were a bit ... uninhibited.
“When I carried mail there were parts of town where there were flashers,” Kaufman said, laughing at the memory. “(A) certain house you just knew if a gal was carrying mail that day the flasher would be out.”
Although her years went by in a flash, Kaufman takes with her two favorite memories.
At the Suquamish office children are given a sticker at the counter. About two years ago one of those stickers was given back to her, kind of.
“I was at a coffee shop in Kingston and I thought I recognized the girl behind the counter and the first thing she said to me was, ‘Do you want a sticker?’” Kaufman laughed again. “It was just so perfect. Seeing the kids over the years you run into the them as adults and it’s a special feeling.”
Then there is the memory of helping unite a family.
People don’t always get an address correct or complete, but luckily Kaufman worked in Suquamish for so many years and she got to know what should go to whom.
One of her customers told her about giving a child up for adoption and thought the child might be trying to reach her but didn’t have the complete address. But Kaufman knew the address and had the letter in question.
“I was pretty sure it was her piece of mail and even though it wasn’t the correct address I got it to her and she subsequently hooked up with this child,” Kaufman said.
Her favorite stamp is the Alphabet E that came out in 1988 for 25 cents, because it was the “prettiest stamp” she’d ever seen with a picture of the earth. She has a fondness for Mr. Zip, and while she’s not a stamp collector, she did collect a few stamps solely for the Mr. Zip border.
And yes, postal workers do try to guess what’s inside boxes and packages. But how couldn’t they when sometimes the box is oozing, chirping or scratching?
It’s just another day in the life of a postal worker.
Kaufman’s days will be starkly different now.
She said she has been offered several jobs by her customers, but looks forward to volunteering. The Indianola resident might like to help in the schools, with seniors and for sure the Humane Society. In retirement she’ll quasi be able to fulfill her veterinarian dreams.
For those who’d like to say farewell to Kaufman, customers are invited to a meet and greet at the Suquamish Post Office from 2-4 p.m. on March 31.