Wednesday, December 7, 2016

By the Side of the Road

Our mail box sits by the side of the road and meets almost all of the US Postal Services regulations as to distance from the pavement and accessibility. Since we live outside the metropolitan area our newspaper does not arrive until the next day so in terms of frog-hair-splitting we are reading history instead of the news, but we enjoy it just the same.
   During the holidays the mailbox takes on added significance when cards begin to arrive from far-flung family and friends. Many people don't write letters when an e-mail or post on Facebook will suffice, but they will include a note or printed sheet to catch you up on all their happenings during the past year with a holiday greeting.
   I'm not sure the current school age generation learns the fine art of letter writing in their world of texting. I can hear the groans across the miles when the young are confronted the chore of dropping a thank you note in the mail to a cranky old great-aunt who expects a response for a gift.
   It begins before Halloween when the mailbox is stuffed with a deluge of mail order catalogs. Many are from companies you've never heard of because once you did order something, even if it was 20 years ago. Your name and address go in computer files which are sold to other companies which are then sold ad infinitum. Catalogs are bread & butter to the postal service because someone out there is paying the postage to have them delivered to your box.
   Though I fuss & fume about the high cost of postage & handling every once-in-a-while I succumb to the lure of a catalog item. This time it was a much needed photographic accessory - a pair of mittens constructed with a flip cover that exposes partially covered fingers allowing me to operate the controls on my camera. I vow it is my last junk item order as the expenses of purchase were twice the cost of the gloves. I rationalized my purchase as being the only source I could find that offered the item I needed.
   Rural mail delivery is a time honored tradition. Going to the mailbox is a social occasion to meet your neighbors who are there for the same reason to discover what the mail person left for you. Driving through the country down rough back roads it is still possible to find rotting in the weeds the remains of a horse trough. Residents provided a source of water for the mailman's horse to take a drink before he plodded along the road to the next box.
   If someone was elderly and lived alone had not collected their mail for several day the postman was sure to go up to the house to check on them and notify their neighbors if they needed help. When my sister died the post office personnel already knew to stop her mail before I arrived to issue the request. The mail delivery person had passed on the road while the medical officials were still in the house.
  During the holidays people left small gifts or coins in their boxes as a token of their appreciation for the service. This was still true in the small town where I grew up. My mother always had a box of cookies and fudge for the mailman. Today I wonder what he did with all those offerings as everyone on the street was doing the same thing. He repaid her kindness one day when her puppy wandered away and got lost. He found the dog on another street, stuffed it in his mail bag, and brought him home.
   Going to the mailbox is a fascinating way in small towns and rural areas to learn the meaning of the holidays from family and friends when they remember you with cards & letters. So hang a wreath or tie a bow around your mailbox to salute the carrier who brings you gifts each day.
   The illustration is by Barbara Appleby, it looks as if she drove by and took a photograph of our box.

   Nash Black, author of Legacy of Death.  

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