Meet at the mailbox, we told our kids when they walked up the block to wait for the school bus. Those were the elementary school years when the yellow bus hauled them off to Franklin and then Hewlett Elementary School in the Five Towns.
Of course you met at the mailbox, the ubiquitous blue mailbox, whatever your community and your particular adventure that day. Those were the days, actually until very recently, when mailboxes were just there, as part of the landscape, a reminder of a service that delivered letters despite the climate, political or meteorological. My husband grew up in Lawrence, and he remembers getting mail delivery twice a day.
Those were the days before mail sorters and USPS websites, and before mail-in voting became a controversial issue. With the acceleration of technology and advanced security measures, much has been lost, particularly the reassuring notion we grew up with that the postal service was a dependable agency, not a victim of political infighting and a target of misinformation campaigns.
Are mailboxes being carted away in the middle of the night to discourage voting? Is the postmaster general a decent CEO or a tool of a rogue administration? The world we live in is muddied with many disturbing questions.
I am setting that aside and thinking today of the romance of mailboxes, which changed to brilliant blue in 1971 from red, white and blue.
My first real letter exchange was with a pen pal I had in Israel. I still remember her name, Giza Shalev, and we wrote back and forth for a few years beginning when I was 10. It was the most thrilling and exotic connection in my life.
I have love letters, and I have written love letters, and there isn’t a text or email that can compare to the ink on the paper and the intimacy of the handwriting from the person you love. I may have married my husband because of a love letter he wrote to me when we were seniors at Lawrence High School. He said he didn’t understand his feelings, but he knew he couldn’t resist the “chemistry” between us. The guy wasn’t a writer, but this was real poetry. I still have that handwritten letter, which was delivered by our mailman in 1964.
For one year of my life, my senior year in high school, the mail was the focus of all my ambitions. I deposited my college applications in the blue box, and received my answers in our front-door mail slot.
How do we decide what to keep? I have a box of letters from other Lawrence High School friends from our first year away at college. Oh my, the drama and depression and yearning for home and for love and for what we had together before we opened our lives to a world away from best friends and yes, lovers.
Everything came in the mail, from college grades to teacher’s licenses to job acceptance letters. My husband got his draft notice in the mail in 1967. I got my teacher’s license, and then, later, I branched out and sent freelance articles to newspapers and magazines and got my acceptances by mail.
One of the most significant letters I wrote was one to my Uncle Sidney, who was estranged from my family because my mother didn’t welcome his beautiful young wife. He declined the invitation to my wedding. But Uncle Sid had been my loving, funny uncle who took me to the Rockaway boardwalk to play Skeeball. I wrote to him — part supplication, part guilt, mostly loving memories — and begged him to come. He wrote back that he would, and he did.
What was your best letter ever? Was there a letter that changed your life?
When we married and had kids, there were impossibly worrisome camp letters referencing weird rashes and black snakes lurking in the freezing lake. Later, there were letters from our son’s bike trip in Denmark and our daughter’s long-haul hike in New Zealand.
Eventually, sadly, email and texting supplanted personal letter writing. Still, I hope the big blue boxes continue to dot the landscape. I hope mail carriers and postal workers are supported in their work. And I hope every single person who needs to vote by mail can have his or her voice and choice heard.
Copyright 2020 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.