THE POWER OF THE MAILBOX
January is birthday month for me, so I'm pretty interested in the mailbox. Is that a package the carrier is delivering here? What about that sheaf of envelopes--birthday cards, maybe?
It's too early, but I can't help myself. My attraction to and fascination with the postal service have been ongoing ever since I felt the excitement of holding a piece of mail addressed to me.
The story really begins back in...well, back several years. Decades, really. I was 10 years old, had just moved to another state away from family and friends, and was living out in the country on a gravel road at least five miles from the nearest town. This was in the foothills of the Ozarks, so no road went straight anywhere--as the crow flew, distances weren't so great; as the car trudged along, it took forever, to my 10-year-old mind, to get to the town where there was a library. The library was, from that day to this, the mecca toward which I bowed and prayed. (Well, not quite, but you get the idea.) But that's another story.
Okay, I'm ten years old, just ready to have another birthday. And I know there'll be a birthday card or two from my aunts back in Illinois. But I never expected something else I got--a subscription to Silver Screen movie magazine! My stepgrandmother knew what this 11-year-old girl would want to read. The magazine came addressed to me. Every single month. I lost myself in the stories of the stars and their lives, memorizing photos of the ones I knew from the few movies I had seen. Those magazines piled up in my room. I treated them kindly so they didn't get bent or wrinkled, and I reread them till I knew them forward and backward.
After that first exhilaration of receiving mail, I looked forward to having pen pals. Those experiences were never as great as I'd thought they would be. Either the pal or I lost interest because we ran out of things to say. Hard to get a letter out to the box if nothing is going on in your life; or worse--if what is going on is better left unsaid, especially to an outsider.
A couple of years later I went to live with my dad and stepmother, and my mother wrote me every week from where she and my stepfather lived. Most of her writings were postcards--not the picture kind, but the ones bought from the post office that had acres of room on the back for messages. My mom could scrunch her handwriting down into really small script to get lots of information on the back. She had beautiful cursive writing--I read and reread those cards that whole year that we were apart. They were like having her there, talking to me. And she always reminded me that she loved me. That was best of all.
By that time I was in junior high--now called middle school--so I learned about ordering things through the mail. First came photos of my favorite movie stars--I wrote asking for an autographed picture and most of them sent one. Within a few years I was earning a little money working part time, so my correspondence escalated to orders for phonograph records--LPs from The Columbia Club. (Somebody in this audience has to remember LPs.) Jazz, both vocal and instrumental, was my category. Then I added show tunes, groups like The HiLos, and finally some piano soloists playing classical music. (In those days I called all the "serious" music classical; later I would learn about the different periods and styles. Didn't bother me that I wasn't 100% correct--ignorance never stopped me from enjoying the music.)
Despite forays into merchandise-by-mail, I never lost the attraction of personal letters. When friends graduated from high school before me, I asked them to write. Some of them did. After I married, I gained a whole new family of letter writers--in-laws (after we moved to Michigan), plus my husband's grandparents and aunt and uncle in Iowa. Because we moved around in the first years of our marriage, some of my relatives kept in touch by mail--my dad and stepmother, aunts, and a couple of cousins. In addition there were always birthday cards to receive and send--and they had to have a message inside, naturally.
To this day, my favorite mail delivery includes letters, cards with messages hand-written inside, a magazine I love to read, or a package. Sometimes I strike it lucky and get all of the above. Bonanza indeed!
I'm a pretty good pen pal these days--I've learned to write on and on about practically anything. Blogs are ideal for that talent. And maybe--just maybe--age has something to do with it. After all, several decades of experiences have to count for something, right?
Yes, I've learned to appreciate the Internet and its electronic mail that has captivated me along with millions of other folks. Yes, I do use texting. These quick corresponders keep me in touch with folks when I need to let them know something or ask a question and can't--or won't--wait for slower processes. Sometimes it's just to say hi. But it's not quite the same as a letter I can hold in my hand, knowing it's been in my cousin's or friend's hand just a few days ago, the wobbly writing signifying the labor of love of an arthritic hand. I know that person and she wrote me a letter.
The power of the mailbox--it's the great connector in an age where so much is instantaneous. "Snail" mail gives us something better than instant gratification: Anticipation. Today just might be the day for a letter or card or package. And if not today, well, there's hope for tomorrow.
That's the power of the mailbox.