Live chicks and queen bees: Cape Breton postman looks back on 51 years of service
In 1971, when the postmaster of St. Peter’s, in Richmond County, Nova Scotia, asked Clare Bouchard if she would agree to do the River Bourgeois letter carrier route, she had no idea it would be the start of a 51-year career.
Bouchard, who retired in October, told CBC Radio maritime noon guest host Brett Ruskin that in 1971 she only had a driver’s license, but that didn’t stop her because things « weren’t as complicated as they are today ».
She only knew the people of the area by their nicknames at the time, so she drove the route with her aunt who filled her in.
The job helped her get to know the community better and, at first, her aunt wasn’t the only person who kept her company on her rounds, Bouchard said.
« You would stop and chat and every day you would see someone different, » she said. « You could take people who would like to drive into town so they can ride with you and tell you stories and it was fun. »
The mail she carried was also very different at first, Bouchard said.
Bouchard remembers taking her children with her when she delivered chicks, always peeping, that were mailed out.
Other quirky deliveries that stood out for her during this time were queen bees, human ashes, dentures and false teeth, she said.
Back then, she says, there were piles of Christmas cards every year and people eagerly awaited delivery of their Eaton’s and Simpsons mail order catalogs to pick out their gifts.
« You gotta get those Christmas sweaters and stockings and presents where they belong, » she said with a laugh.
But times have changed and in recent years many of its deliveries have been Amazon packages.
Many people in the area order their Christmas gifts online today, Bouchard said, and some days she had so many packages to deliver that she had to make two trips.
Bouchard said she never wanted a promotion or a different job because being a letter carrier allowed her to spend time with her family.
She said her day starts on average around 9:30 a.m. and she is usually back home by 2 p.m., giving her time with her four children. Her mother-in-law was also living with the family at the time, she said, so someone was always home.
Bouchard’s daughter, Lisa, describes her mother as « awesome » and says she was « everyone’s mother ».
« She’s just amazing. I haven’t met a single person in my life who didn’t love her, » her daughter said. « You want to be her friend. »
Lisa Bouchard said she and her siblings always had a cooked meal waiting for them at home when they got home from school.
She said to this day her mother sends « care packages » of home-cooked meals and baked goods to her children and grandchildren.
Young Bouchard said her mother also made and sold cakes for occasions like birthdays and weddings. Baking was such a constant at home, she said, that it got to the point where kids didn’t want cake anymore because they were so used to smelling it.
Since retiring on Oct. 28, Bouchard said she’s been busy and barely had time to catch up on her soap operas.
She said she didn’t like staying in the house too long.
Her children say the family are well aware that the 81-year-old is « ready for anything ».
« Her brothers say she’s like their best friend, like the family dog, » Lisa Bouchard said.
« You shake the keys and she’s in the car. I can’t wait to go. »