Friday, April 1, 2011
Jan and the missing letter
One thing that was drummed into us as kids was that we were always to pick up the mail from the Post Office on our way home from school, and that we were to give it to Mum or Dad when they came up to the house from the dairy as soon as they got home. In another story I showed how that could have unforeseen consequences, but there was a good reason for Dad’s insistence in this.
The quarterly milk cheque arrived at an imprecise date in the mail at the end of each three-month period. There was little point in the PCD Coop registering such letters, as it was often difficult for farmers to get to the Post Office to sign for them around the time that the cheques were drawn up. Consequently, it was left to the children to bring home a quarter of the farm’s annual income in a large chunk, and you can imagine the ruckus if the cheque were to be lost by one of the kids.
In a tiny township like Calliope, even if a letter were dropped, someone was likely to find it, and either walk over to the person’s house with it or drop it back in at the Post Office. But that rarely happened, as the eldest of the kids in the family was given the primary responsibility for anything in an envelope that came from the PCD, and they knew how important it was.
Thus it was with great trepidation that Jan came out on a mild autumn Sunday morning in 1956 with a sealed letter, with PCD on the envelope. It was just after the end of the month, and, as she confessed to Dad when he came home from the dairy that morning, the letter had been in her school port since the Friday before.
He looked at her darkly, and gave her a good dressing down. ‘Don’t you know,’ he roared, ‘that in that letter is what gives us food till the middle of the year? That pays all our bills? That they’d cut off the electricity (which had been newly connected at the time) if I don’t have the money? You’d have no books for school?’ and on and on he went, as Jan shrank down further and further into her slippers as she held the letter in her trembling hand.
‘Give it to me.’
Lyn and I were standing behind the door in the next room, near certain now that Jan was going to get some sort of fearful punishment, but we couldn’t imagine what.
Almost with tears in her eyes, Jan handed over the precious envelope. Dad opened it, unfolded the letter inside, but there was no cheque. All that was in it was a foolscap sheet of paper, on which were the words, in Jan’s neat printing:
Yes, she had caught Dad out nicely with that one, and scared herself silly in the process! Dad read the words, went red in the face thinking of his long rant, and more with embarrassment than rage, finally took the joke in good spirit. Still, he could not resist one parting shot. ‘Well, let that remind you – DON’T forget to give me the mail the day you bring it home!’
Poor Jan. She’d bargained on his opening the letter first, thus avoiding the scolding as he would have got the joke straight away. Her April Fool’s Day joke had come within an inch of misfiring badly. She never tried one like that again, not on Dad anyway.