Greetings from the Ridge.
I can remember as a youngster running in to get the mail and hearing the peep-peep of baby chickens in the back room. An indulgent postmaster would let me go back to look at the chicks peeking their little beaks out of the round holes in the shipment box. I recently read where it was only last year when some legislative body made it illegal to ship children through the mail. I'm not kidding. This would have been a blow to my mother who was constantly threatening to ship my brother and I off to Siberia. For years I thought Siberia was full of Midwest farm kids who didn't make their beds.
I miss the post office. I know it's still there and once a day I make my trek up to get the third class fliers and a few assorted bills, but I truly miss the good old days of just a year or two ago. It's no secret that electronic communication has all but killed off the U.S. mail, and one by one services are being dropped, hours shortened, as the town gathering place that was once the post office has now been relegated to the days of washboards and crank phones.
Now I put on a stamp, mail a letter to the lady down the street (I still write letters), the local postmaster tosses it in bag that's picked up by a truck that hauls my letter 40 miles to a district station, the letter from Coonridge is then funneled back to Coonridge, and 80 miles of mileage and untold hours of labor have been put into moving a letter 30 yards, all in the name of cost savings. Maybe they're right. Math was never my strong suit. And yes, I know I could just carry the darned thing down the street but there's still something special about getting a letter in the mail.
In July of 1775 the members of the Second Continental Congress had a little meeting in Philadelphia and between bouts of swatting flies and arguing about the smell from the livery stable next door, they decided that our nation needed a Postmaster General to be paid $1000 a year. Now, 240 years later, we still have a system granting equal access to mailing privileges for every U.S. citizen. Horses were the first delivery system then technology was adopted as our letters went by steamboat, trains, autos and planes. Before the creation of our national system a letter writer would have to find a traveling merchant or in some cases Native Americans to carry her letter to Aunt Sally in Georgia. Due largely to Ben Franklin's system of organization, the U.S. Post turned its first profit in 1760. Some say that was the last year the system paid for itself.
But oh, for the days when the post office was also the place to catch up on local news. The postmaster in my hometown could tell you who was on vacation, how long they'd be gone, when the next baby in town was due, and could make a pretty good forecast of the next day's weather. I suppose that most of this would be illegal for them to divulge now, and 'tis a pity. The post office gave us a sense of community that email will never quite equal.
Not long ago I traveled to a nearby town to see an old friend, but I'd never been to her house before. Small towns in the Midwest are notorious for having few house numbers since most folks know where everyone lives. However, I was not among the informed that day so I parked my car and stood on the sidewalk looking at four possible houses for my visit. None were labeled. Then a sprightly U.S. Postal delivery lady came bouncing down the street in her blue blouse and navy shorts. I said, "Excuse me, but could you tell me where Judy Briggs lives?" The gal's face dropped. "I'm really sorry," she said, "but I'm not allowed to give out that information." She felt truly bad about the silly restriction and was embarrassed at not being able to help me out, so I began to walk across the street and knock on the first door I came to. This is where it got downright funny. As soon as I headed up the wrong sidewalk the mail lady started making a high-pitched whining sound. I looked at her and she was discretely shaking her head. I headed toward the next house and again, my little mail gal whined me away from the door. As I marched up to the door of my third choice I looked back to see the U.S. Postal service smile at me and continue on her route. Now that is service.
So let's do our patriotic duty before technology drives the final stake into the mail carrier's bag. Write a letter and mail it off. The kids in Siberia need you.
You ever in Coonridge, stop by. We may not answer the door but you'll enjoy the trip.
In real life, Freida Marie Crump is Ken Bradbury, retired teacher, author, musician and playwright who hangs out in Arenzville.