Pembroke post office keeps “letters to Santa” tradition alive
PEMBROKE – The hustle-and-bustle of the holidays was in full effect Thursday as Pembroke resident and four-year-old Olivia Vaught made a trip, with her mom Sarah Vaught, to the Pembroke Post Office.
Olivia was sending an important letter to the North Pole for the busiest man in the world.
In the letter, Olivia asked Santa for an Easy Bake Oven, Hello Kitty Karaoke machine, a slushy machine and a Dora the Explorer mermaid doll.
She also suggested Santa give his reindeer baby carrots and hot chocolate.
Like Olivia, children across the United States have been sending letters to Santa for years and 2012 marks the 100th anniversary of the U.S. Postal Service’s “Letters to Santa” program.
The U.S. Postal Service credits 1912 Postmaster Frank Hitchcock who authorized postal employees and citizens to respond to the fast-growing number of letters they received during the holiday season.
In the 1940’s, mail volume for Santa letters increased so much, the U.S. Postal Service reached out to charitable organizations, corporations and community groups to read and respond to the letters.
A vast number of the post offices participating in the program provide a written response to children signed by Santa, while others partner with outside organizations to actually fulfill a child’s wish list.
In some cases, letters are responded to and gifts are purchased by postal workers and citizens under a strict security guideline to protect the information and identity of the child.
Pembroke Postmaster Elaine Cook ensures tradition is kept and each letter her post office receives gets a response. There’s another Christmas tradition Cook has been able to keep dating back to the 1960’s.
When the Pembroke Post Office moved from its former location at Kalbee Restaurant on Snidow Street to its current location on Progress Street, Cook came across an unfamiliar kid-sized mailbox in storage.
The miniature mailbox was painted red and blue in typical postal service fashion. On the front, a smiling St. Nick carrying a sack was painted below letters that spelled out the words “LETTERS TO SANTA.”
When the mailbox was found in 1999, Cook didn’t know who made it, or where it even came from.
But Cook decided to set the mailbox out at the new location anyway and children began placing their letters in the mailbox as other children had done many years before.
One day, Pembroke resident Nancy Falls noticed the mailbox while she was in the post office.
Nancy later returned with an old newspaper article detailing the story behind the mailbox her late husband Norman “Bullet” Falls had made for Pembroke’s children.
Norman, who was a carpentry hobbyist in his spare time, served as the town’s postmaster for 23-years from 1958-1984. In 1961, Norman made the box in his spare time and placed it in the lobby.
Cook said Norman was revered and respected in the community and his legend became the standard she continually strives to meet since taking on the role of Pembroke’s postmaster.
Nancy and her late husband raised two kids of their own – Randy and Larry – and then their grandson years later. Nancy said Norman was “kind and good” and clearly loved all children.
Norman also loved his job at the post office because he loved seeing people, Nancy added.
Norman died in 1990, but his legacy now lives on through the letters to Santa mailbox.
As Olivia, Norman’s great niece, placed her letter to Santa in the mailbox, Nancy smiled and said the mailbox brings back memories of her late husband and all the Christmas seasons the box was out collecting letters.
“He would be happy to know it is still being used,” Nancy said.
The post office usually collects eight to 10 letters in the Santa mailbox beginning when it’s set out the day after Thanksgiving and removed on Christmas Eve, Cook said.
Many of Pembroke’s post office customers are also happy to see the mailbox is still being used even after all these years. Cook said she loves to hear customers come into the post office and reminisce about putting their letters in the mailbox when they were children.
“I like carrying on traditions and I think this tradition is important,” Cook said. “Other post offices don’t have a mailbox like this and I think it’s special to say we’ve had this box since 1961.”
“It’s like he’s watching over us still at Christmas time.”
The Roanoke Times | 381-8627
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