My great-grandfather, before he lost his legs to diabetes, and before he retired, was a postman. My father worked for the US Postal Service for a number of years, as did both my aunts. It’s almost 80 continual years that someone in my family has been employed by a post office.
Recently, there’s been a lot of talk about the organization in Congress. Many are saying it’s worthless–an artifact of earlier times–from the days when we needed to send paper bills; when we wrote letters; when valentines weren’t just handed out in kindergarten classrooms.
We get several things in our mailbox every day. I would bet 30-40 items a week are mailed to Judi and me through USPS. I bet 1 of those 40 items is useful, on any given week. It’s become, honestly, a junk receptacle. Much like a spam-catcher I employ on my email accounts, and on this blog, it should separate wheat from the chaff. It’s all chaff these days. Sigh.
Remember the good old days, when you sat down, and hand-wrote letters? Stamps were as cheap as 6, or 13, or 24, or even 39 cents? Calling someone long-distance might cost a couple bucks! In 1986-1987, when I lived overseas, I counted the number of letters I wrote. That year, I wrote far more than 100 letters. General silliness, love letters, requests for college admissions, serious religious quandaries for my mother and others. It was all germaine then. Now, in the age of email, this stuff is taken care of rapidly. Inter-office memo envelopes are a thing of the past. There is, frankly, little call for an infrastructure that takes care of the movement of paper throughout the nation.
I miss letter-writing. I used to have a huge callus on the middle finger on my left hand from all the writing I used to do. The other day, I had to fill out a job application–in INK!–and my hand was cramping before I’d finished writing the first page. Keyboarding has become so mundane that I don’t think either of my sons would need bother taking a typing class in high school. It was mandatory when I went to school because those machines were arcane!
I think it’s partly why I write this blog. It serves as a catch-all for the things I used to express to others on paper. There came a time, right after using printers became cheap, I’d write a form letter, change a couple details (and the name on top) and send it out to my grandparents, friends & family. Now, I just dump it here. If somebody wants to read my thoughts, this is pretty darn close to what you’d see if I wrote a letter to you.
I was at Mt Vernon, VA, the other day, and looked at the postcards. I must say, those folks took far better pictures than I’d ever managed of General Washington’s estate. But, I rationalized, I haven’t sent a postcard in years! Why would I bother? Who would want a postcard from me?
Why, then, does it feel like I’m cheating? Maybe I’m part of the problem. I lament an old infrastructure that used to work. I don’t type on a Smith Corona anymore. Heck, I hardly use an ink pen anymore. Fountain pens explode in my hand. So I type on a keyboard. Am I cheating my Aunt, who may find herself jobless in the next 2 years, because I don’t send post to my friends and family?
I don’t expect an answer, of course. If you have a really strong opinion about it, mail me a letter or something.
By the way: if you are interested in the craft of letter writing, or miss the days when we sent things in ink (except Charlie Brown: Dear Pencil Pal…), check out Letters of Note. I heard about this site on NPR a few weekends ago, and it’s quite interesting. It has famous letters from everyone from Beethoven, to Ralph Waldo Emerson, to Ronald Reagan. Today’s featured letter, for example, was written by F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1925, to a fan who loved The Great Gatsby (and was surprised by Mencken’s negative review).