JAY EM – This normally quiet community of 16 in northern Goshen County will, for two minutes, 27 seconds, become the center of the universe during the Great American Eclipse on Aug. 21.
Pam Pugsley, who runs the one-person Post Office in town, has a plan to help commemorate what’s being billed as a “once in a generation event.” And she’s partnered with a local philanthropic group to benefit education at the same time.
On Eclipse Day, on top of her other duties, Puglsey will be hand-canceling envelopes for anyone who comes in, using a special stamp of her own design. The special postmark, or cancellation, features the longitude and latitude of tiny Jay Em, along with the time in totality and the stylized logo of the eclipse.
It all started almost a year ago. Madelon Daniels, scholarship chairperson for the local chapter of the American Association of University Women, thought the eclipse would be a perfect opportunity. One of the group’s focuses is on promotion of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (S.T.E.M.) curriculum, particularly for
‘Perfect opportunity . . .’
“What more perfect a S.T.E.M. opportunity would there be than an eclipse?” Daniels said. “It covers science, mathematics, astronomy –
“It’s a S.T.E.M. thing,” she said. “What can we do to promote that idea and use the eclipse as a backdrop.”
Daniels and Pugsley got together and, just a couple of days later, the design was born. Daniels, for her part, designed a special envelope to go along with the new postmark, featuring the AAUW logo along with depictions of the old and new post offices in
While the design process only took a few days, doing the paperwork for a special, commemorative cancellation stamp took several weeks to wind its way through proper channels.
“I drew something up, then submitted it for approval” by the Postal Service, Pugsley said. “The paperwork took awhile, but we got
The request was submitted in early November last year, she said. She received final approval and ordered the special stamp in February of this year.
“On the 21st, we will be stamping cancellations and sending them out,” Pugsley said. “Or, you can come in to the Post Office, we’ll hand stamp it and hand it back to you.”
Purchase of a special commemorative envelope is not required for the cancellation, she said. But the proceeds do go to a good cause.
Pugsley has already received a few, nested envelopes from around the country, requesting the commemorative cancellation.
And she expects the staff of the Jay Em Post Office will be doubled – they’re bringing in an extra person, she said – on Eclipse Day to handle the anticipated crowds.
“The mail still has to go out,” Pugsley said.
There’s quite an extensive network of people around the country and around the world who collect both stamps and commemorative cancellations, Pugsley said. The U.S. Postal Service keeps a list of collectable and other stamps on its website.
The stamps used to impress postmarks are tightly regulated by USPS, she said. Her eclipse stamp will be available at the Jay Em Post Office for 30 days following the eclipse and Pugsley will be able to offer additional post mark cancellations during that time. After 30 days, she’s required to send the physical stamp to the USPS, along with a tally of how many times it was used, where it will be destroyed.
Heart of the community
The Jay Em Post Office is normally a fairly quiet place. Pugsley’s average day starts about 8 a.m. and is filled with paperwork and reports. Then, the mail delivery arrives at about 10 a.m. and folks begin showing up shortly after to pick up their deliveries.
Pugsley usually has the coffee brewed and ready by that time, she said. People in the community provide the coffee and cups and she’s responsible for having the pot ready to go.
“Around 10 a.m., things get to happening around here,” she said. “People come in and have their coffee every morning and pick up their mail. When the mail comes in, we can get quite busy.”
The role of a small, satellite post office – the official designation of the Jay Em facility – involves more than just handling the mail. It’s the center of the community, both for residents and people who happen by on their journey’s north and south along nearby U.S. Hwy. 85, which skirts the east side of town.
Pugsley keeps hard-copy maps on hand, for example. She’s ready to help the occasional lost traveler off the highway who’s lost and dealing with the sketchy, or non-existent, cell and GPS service in the area.
The morning coffee and mail ritual also serves a double purpose. Pugsley knows all of her customers by name. If someone doesn’t show up for their mail, people can check up on them to be sure they’re well.
“People keep track of who’s showed up and who hasn’t,” she said. “We keep track of each other. We make sure everyone is okay and that we know it.”
And traffic through the Post Office is pretty normal, too. Other than the occasional box of rocks – which had to be packed so they wouldn’t “jiggle around,” Puglsey said – or jars of home-canned pickles, the gift of a local resident who was shipping them to a sister, nothing too strange has passed through
“But I do get things sometimes that say just, ‘Grandma, Jay Em,’” she said. “Then I get to figure out who Grandma is.”
That’s another area where knowing every one of her customers really helps, Pugsley said. By figuring out where the letter, package or card came from, and knowing the families, “Grandma” soon gets her mail with only a minimal delay for deciphering the identity.
Jay Em almost lost its Post Office a few years ago, when the Postal Service was debating closures of smaller, satellite offices. But service remains for the 16 locals and about 50 rural delivery customers the local office serves.
“Without us, people would have to drive to Lingle or to Lusk to get their mail,” Puglsey said. “That 50 mile round trip might just be out of the question.”