Most people don't think of going to the post office during the holidays as a fun thing to do. Yet, the majority of the customers who do business at the Mount Vernon office down by George Washington's Estate look forward to doing their business there, even when it is busy.
"I don't mind standing in line; the people are so friendly. I don't care if the line is out the door, I'll come here before I'll go somewhere else," said Peter Hobelmann, who lives in Wellington, but comes to this office instead of others.
Pat Goode has been a customer at the Mount Vernon office for 20 years, and said, "I'd rather come here and wait in line. I just love our post office. And the postmaster is great and wonderful."
The person Goode is referring to is Sandra McDuffie, who has been the postmaster at Mount Vernon since 1993.
"I do enjoy working here. It's been an experience. I get to know the boxholders. It's like family," said McDuffie. There are currently 307 post office boxes.
McDuffie did say that they're busier now since they moved to the trailer in 1999. Prior to that, the post office was in a small office located next to the gift shop at Mount Vernon. "We're busier now because we're more accessible. It's harder to keep track of everybody's name," said McDuffie.
McDuffie said that it was her understanding that they would get a permanent structure within a year of moving, but that has been delayed because of things like 9/11. She expects that a permanent structure will eventually be built and does not anticipate that the office will ever be closed.
Some customers like the new facility, but many of them miss the other facility. Ray Staffieri, who's been coming since they had an office at Mount Vernon, said, "The other place was quainter." He was at the post office this week mailing out his Christmas packages along with many other people.
Fely Sabarre-Tracy also misses the old building. "I liked the old building, it was so English. I miss it," she said.
McDuffie didn't know all of the history, but believes that has been a post office on the grounds of Mount Vernon since the 1800's. She also said that one of her customers used to tell her about going to the small post office located right inside the grounds of Mount Vernon.
WORKING ALONG with McDuffie are Garde Johnson and Cora Spratt. Formerly called window clerks, they are now referred to as sales and service associates. McDuffie said that Johnson has been working that office longer than she has. He was originally at Lorton and came to Mount Vernon to help relieve the staff there; he is now permanently assigned to Mount Vernon.
"Two to three days or a week?" asks Johnson. "Breakable, perishable, need any insurance?" These are standard questions to help customers determine the mailing method required. What is not standard is his cheerful smile and his departing 'Merry Christmas to You.'
Although the post office remains busy almost all the time, [not just during the holidays], Johnson and Spratt remain upbeat.
Spratt said, "Most times we're here, we're busy. I try to give everybody the same amount of attention, but I especially like to take time with the older people."
Spratt knows most of the customers by time, and is sad every time one of them dies
She said that customers bring cookies and treats especially during the holidays. "They worry that we won't be able to get out," said Spratt.
TAKING A BREAK is a problem sometimes and is the reason why Goode brings them stacks of dollar bills.
"They're so busy they can't get out and get change, so I bring them singles," she said. Shortly after McDuffie received the change, a customer handed her a hundred dollar bill; she gently chastised her and asked her to stop at 7-11 first next time.
Lina Voellm just moved here two years ago and said, "Everything's fine here; it's convenient."
Dave and Kathy Lamm frequent the post office. Dave said that they live down the street and have been coming since it opened. "It's nice here," he said.
Mary Jane Thornton, who's been coming since there was a Mount Vernon office, said, "I love it here. The people are kind and helpful. I come here instead of going somewhere else."
Next to Thornton in line was Tracey Scott and her daughter, Taylor. She mentioned that Taylor liked it when Johnson stamped fragile on her hand.
"See, that's what I mean. It's that personal touch," she said.