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The scales of justice at the Post Office Add to ...

Facts & Arguments is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.

If they both moved back to Edmonton life would be much simpler.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am proud of my children and their accomplishments, which have taken them to more prestigious cities and given me opportunities to see new places. I’d be a fool to say I didn’t enjoy visiting Boston, walking the Freedom Trail, eating lunch in the Courtyard of the Museum of Fine Arts beside Dale Chihuly’s 42-foot-tall Lime Green Icicle Tower.

It’s all wonderful. It’s just a long way from home, and makes it difficult when it is gift-giving time.

A friend suggests I use Amazon or Lush and have something delivered. But when I Google their websites I can’t find anything I want.

Send money, my husband says. But will they use it for something special, I ponder, with visions of my son and daughter stopping by Zaftigs for an exotic Reuben sandwich, or ducking into the New Paris Bakery for a chocolate éclair – or, best of all, purchasing a book from Brookline Booksmith, where I discovered the writer Jhumpa Lahiri on the same day a lady searching the shelves beside me was chatting on her phone while her bulldog, in a pearl necklace, licked her ankles.

Can I trust my spawn to treat themselves to gifts, or will they slap the money down for parking or groceries at Trader Joes?

Over the 10 years my children have resided in the United States, I have become excellent friends with Canada Post, learning valuable lessons about mailing. I’ve sent underwear, contact lenses, a seven-pound rock from the river valley, bicycle trainers, birthday cakes and a double batch of the kids’ favourite – Nanaimo bars – which were too heavy and cost me $50.

I’ve learned that there are more staff changes at the bigger centres, whereas in the small malls and corner drugstores the faces of those who weigh my parcels are usually the same.

So when I used a new outlet to send my cards and store-bought Easter chocolates – properly packaged in manila envelopes and wrapped meticulously by me to fit through the appropriate slot – I made a huge mistake.

The pleasant lady took my packages and efficiently placed the first one on her scale, quoting me $6, a price I found reasonable, even with rates rising like lively bread dough just that morning.

Smoothing the printed stamp on the envelope, she reached for the next article, which I casually mentioned would cost the same, as it contained the same things and was wrapped the same way.

She smiled and set it on her scale, checked the weight twice and told me the second parcel would be $10.50.

“Impossible,” I said. “The contents are identical and my children live one block apart. I will pay the same price for both.”

With her smile now morphing to a scowl, she refused to stamp the second parcel at the lower rate, pointing out that it weighed just a touch more.

“Fine,” I said. “I won’t be mailing either.”

And with that, I ripped the stamp off parcel No. 1 and left in a huff, resigned and disappointed, perhaps with myself, as $4.50 was not going to break me. But it was the principle. And I didn’t want to admit that, as with so many others, I was losing faith in Canada Post or that my husband’s idea to send cash was probably right after all.

Perhaps it was the scent of spring the next morning that filled me with optimism and made my packages look so pretty. Wearing new pink lipstick and sunglasses, I set out to our neighbourhood shopping mall, stopping first at the UPS Store.

“We can get them there tomorrow,” said the enthusiastic girl. “Only $49 for both.”

Thanking her, I noted that Easter was still two weeks away and that with their exceptionally speedy service I still had plenty of time to think about it.

The drugstore where I usually post my parcels was right around the corner. Just back from coffee, the friendly grandmother who has been there from the store’s inception wiped her hands on her navy-blue pants as she approached the counter.

“Easter treats, I’ll bet,” she said. “Don’t you wish the kids would just move home? My six-month-old grandson and his parents – the last of my Edmonton holdouts – relocated to Tofino last month. Now I eat Sunday dinner alone. What happened to those family times we all dreamed of?”

She weighed the first parcel and stamped it with the price I had been quoted before. Placing the second one on the scale, she said: “I know this is exactly the same. In my large family, I never play favourites. They always find out in the end.” Checking the scale, she put the same postage on both.

“Thank you,” I said, attempting to hide the quiver in my voice as I pocketed my receipt. “Have a great day and a very Happy Easter.” I meant every word.

As I walked home in the warm sun, thinking of the kids tearing open their envelopes and digging into their chocolate, I wished I’d slipped the postal lady a $20 bill. No matter what scales we use, or how we choose to use them, it’s the face behind the counter that determines the price and whether we will be back.

Janice McCrum lives in Edmonton.

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