After working for the U.S. Postal Service for a decade, Celia Millwood is used to the early mornings.
Millwood’s day kicks off at around 6 a.m., when the mail truck from Lincoln arrives in Beatrice with the day’s mail.
“Now I’m used to it, but at first it was tough,” Millwood said. “Sleeping in on Sunday to me is 7 o’clock.”
Millwood’s first task in the morning is to bring in the carts of mail that the truck leaves on the dock west of the post office.
Then the sorting begins.
While much of the mail comes pre-sorted for the nine city routes, four rural routes and a short auxiliary route, there are a few exceptions that have to be hand sorted before going out.
“We have about two trays that we sort ourselves, but the majority of them are already sorted to the routes,” Millwood said. “They have a sort machine in Lincoln that helps sort them to where they need to go. Some may not be the correct size or they’re too thick or they run out of time.”
Once letters are sorted, Millwood moves on to the bigger items, the flats.
Flats are items like magazines and newspapers. Once again, some come presorted by route, while others must be done on-scene at the post office.
Fortunately, Millwood doesn’t have to sort the mail alone. Her co-worker, Jodi Berke, often helps, though the two also rotate and work at nearby post offices.
Whether one or two of the women are working in Beatrice, they get additional help from Bob Jones, window clerk.
Jones, a 31-year post office employee, arrives around the same time as the truck to help prepare for delivery prior to opening the front window at around 8:30.
“First thing in the morning, I break down these letters according to routes,” Jones said. “After I get done, I go and I sort flats according to routes. Then I might go break down packages and put letters in the box section.”
Most days getting the mail sorted for the carriers, who arrive at 7:30, goes smoothly, but there is the occasional set back.
“Last winter, when it was so bad, was hard for the truck to get here,” Millwood said. “If it’s late, we have to be even faster because the carriers are coming in at 7:30 anyway and they’ll be ready for their mail so we have to keep moving as fast as we can.”
Regardless of weather, Millwood said that in her 10 years at the post office the mail has always arrived.
If sorting carts full of mail wasn’t enough, the morning workers also have to tag any ripped or torn packages and write up certified and express mail before distributing it to the proper route.
Despite the busy mornings, Millwood has gotten used to it and enjoys her early hours and the fact that she gets to go home for a couple hours at 9 a.m.
“Even though we’re doing pretty much the same thing every day, it just seems like there’s different aspects of it that every day, it’s something different,” Millwood said. “I enjoy working the mornings and I enjoy my split shift. I have kids and I can be home with them and pick them up for school.”
Millwood said that she snacks during her shift and drinks pop to help keep her going, but reserves coffee for the cold winter days, even though they’re much easier on the clerks than the carriers.
For Jones, getting up early can sometimes be a challenge, but one that’s got easier over time.
“It’s kind of hard to get up that early in the morning, but you get used to it, that you have to be here every day,” Jones said. “I just eat some cereal for breakfast. I don’t drink coffee in the morning.”
Jones expected to have to get used to the morning work, because he intended to make his job at the post office into a career.
“When I started here, I thought of it as a career position and continued to work here,” Jones said. “I enjoy the work. It’s pretty much routine.”
This time of year, the daily sorting can be especially challenging thanks to the piles of political and holiday mail that come in.
Though the days leading up to the holiday season are busy, the day after is worse.
No matter how busy it gets, Millwood never forgets that she loves her job.
“The day after a holiday is usually very busy,” Millwood said. “Not too often are (the carriers) waiting on us, but every once in a while they’ll come over and get their mail out of here early before we’re ready for them. It can be a challenge.”