For years, dropping off a parcel at the Loyola Corners Post Office came with special service – at a minimum a warm smile or sympathetic glance, or, if you were lucky, love advice from Grace Liang, the longtime postal worker who anchored counters downtown and then on Miramonte Avenue for 30 years. She retired last month.
Liang grew up in Taiwan and moved to the United States as a young bride. She was joining a husband her family had found for her – a bit older than she was, and more or less unknown. She discovered she’d married a “sweet guy” and also lucked into supportive in-laws in Los Altos.
Her new father-in-law gets the credit for encouraging her to be brave, leave the house and get to know her new land.
“He pushed me out the door to work and told me, ‘You should join the community,” she said.
He made Liang an appointment, and one entrance exam later she found herself a member of the U.S. Postal Service. That first tentative step became a career-long fit.
“I made the right decision to go out to work, because I like people,” she said, describing the vast swath of human experience that passes through the post office doors. “They share their stories with me. They cry with me, and I’ll cry with them.”
Liang worked the counter at Los Altos’ downtown post office, and transferred to the Miramonte location when it opened. At first, stories of loss and suffering were hard to take in without becoming upset, she said. One day a very sad-looking customer explained that her son had just died in an accident and the shared grief upended Liang’s day, too. Over time, she “got stronger,” she said, still hearing and feeling the stories but without taking them too deeply to heart. It was part of the professional identity she made for herself, as the clerk who made people’s day better.
“This has been my only job, besides wife,” she said of the postal work. “I’ve never done anything else.”
Stories about Liang’s exploits occasionally made it to the Town Crier newsroom. She helped prevent one elderly customer from being defrauded of retirement savings – a delicate business, because her job was to accept the mail, not ponder its contents. She delayed sending the envelope long enough to look up the customer’s wife and make a quick phone call. The day was saved. Various forms of fraud, Liang said, have gotten worse and worse in her years on the job.
Seeing the best in people
The postal business isn’t all warmth and relaxation – resources are stretched thin, and Liang said the current postmaster is extremely hardworking, facing huge seasonal crushes and high-volume online shopping deliveries. But Liang said that in many respects, she has seen little change over the course of 30 years. Her customers are always kind, often calling out her name as they walk through the door.
She even has a following on the post office’s Yelp page – not a site known for glowing reviews when it comes to the gauntlet of getting through a holiday rush or a frustrating passport renewal.
“I believe that a happy person has a better life,” she said. “My last customer said to me, ‘Grace, it’s five minutes before closing and you’re still smiling.’”
Liang has discussed variations on that philosophy with many customers over the years, dissecting how to fight lovingly with a spouse and prioritize contentment over winning arguments. Seeing the best in people – in a tiff at home, or during a crush at the counter – gives Liang a kind of serenity.
Decades spent standing at the counter and picking up packages have also kept her strong – she claims it balances the body – but she’s looking forward to exercising more on her own terms. Liang has booked cruises in the coming year, and plans to go back to school to take coursework on investing. All of the Los Altos residents she knew from behind the counter are now just her neighbors.
“I want to wish all my sweet customers health and happiness,” she said. “That’s my last word.”