There has never been a time in my life when the US Postal Service did not matter. Some of my earliest memories of growing up in Onset include going to the post office for my mother. Our dependence on the services provided by the USPS was high with nearly daily interaction with the postal clerks who seemed always to be beavering away.
We did not have home delivery service in Onset. Everyone walked to the post office. It was a hub of community activity and a place where people would stop and chat each other up for a bit. It was the heartbeat of that tiny village.
Carrying the mail home each day was one of my chores. Ma would sort through the mass of advertising circulars and utility bills, handing me anything she thought could be relegated to my play-office in the corner of my bedroom.
The post office kept us connected to the bigger world outside the confines of our little house and our little village. Magazine subscriptions and the arrival of the seasonal mail-order catalogs were events. Whether it was delivery of my summer Weekly Reader or the Christmas edition of the Sears and Roebuck catalog, the post office provided the conductivity, albeit manual, that we needed.
Through the years, staying in touch with people via the written word was a high priority for yours truly. When I say written word, I don’t mean keystrokes. I’m talking about good old fashion pen in hand. I was thinking the other day about all the people I once wrote letters to, maybe as many as seven at one point in time. A book of postage stamps was like an internet connection.
When my high school friends began migrating west to California in the ‘70s, writing and receiving letters became the conduit by which our relationships were maintained. Coming home from the post office with a thick envelope knowing it contained the latest Gold Coast adventures, detailed in longhand, of friends living a bohemian life-style thousands of miles away. It was exciting. Writing a response was expected, otherwise, I’d receive, “Why haven’t you written!” Writing and receiving letters was simply part of living and made possible by the USPS.
Later on when I began a decades-long quest to “find myself” my journeys took me to Italy. The postal service kept me connected to family and friends. I attempted to explain myself, be understood, be accepted, and included all by way of letters entrusted to an operation we really couldn’t see or understand.
As I sat in that small apartment in Vicenza looking out from my fourth-floor perch across the fields that surrounded the country farm villa far below at the end of the lane, I’d describe what I was seeing in living color and in long rambling sentences to my cousins and my mother so far away. The act of writing a letter and posting it made me feel like I was talking to my family. I just had to wait two weeks to hear their voices in return. I relied on the postal service; in this case, the A.P.O. afforded the US military service that kept the mail moving across the Atlantic. Those letters swept away the loneliness.
By the late ’80s, I’d returned east after a stint on the west coast near my hometown friends. They stayed there, not wanting anything or anyone back east. My return spoke volumes about missing home. Once again it was letters that tied me to Onset, primarily my mother but also several cousins who seemed to enjoy reading my missives.
But I wonder today, usually when the internet goes bye-bye, as it has just now while I write this, what would we have done without the US Postal Service? Consider all the services it’s offered over the years far beyond mail distribution. People without a bank account can buy money orders. Applications for a variety of things such as passports can be obtained from the post office. I don’t know if this applies any longer, but the post office used to offer notary services.
When I think about the mail it is not so much the actual stuff that now arrives daily, but instead, a sentimental journey through relationships, most of which have come and gone, that I once enjoyed, secrets shared, love expressed, gifts sent, and received.
The USPS was so reliable I once baked cranberry-nut breads during Christmas time and mailed them from Onset to Santa Monica so my girlfriend could have a taste of home during the holidays. And those cards in the mail received into my homesick hands so often when I lived thousands of miles from family, Christmas, Easter, birthday, or simply “thinking of you.” Small emotional life rafts that buoyed my spirit for days knowing that someone somewhere was thinking of me.
Today receiving hard copies of my Medicare statements ranks high on the list of must-haves. After all it is my responsibility to make sure the program is only paying for services rendered, and maintaining those documents for two years is necessary. But, let’s face it, people of a certain age depend on hard copy versus scrolling through electronic lists. Yes, I still prefer real books, too.
Sure, I use the usual suspects of delivery services available at a keystroke in our digital satellite-controlled world. But much like the library, the brick and mortar types, the post office stands out as a bastion of what good government can accomplish. I know, I know the USPS if fraught with money troubles, mismanagement, etc., etc. That is troubling. But the principle of a government helping its citizens, connecting people, providing business opportunities, and keeping the love light burning between sweethearts is precious to me.
While most of the family I wrote to has passed away, as grandchildren have grown into women of purpose using quick texts to convey messages complete with emojis (give me strength), and my penmanship now rarely pressed into service deteriorates, I hold steadfast to the importance of the USPS. For surely if it were dismantled, a private letter-carrying service would fill the void, and costs would be what the market would bear, not what the market should bear.
I “heart” the USPS. May it last at least as long as I do, for to lose it now would be like losing another loved one.
This Mattapoisett Life
By Marilou Newell