Last night I came across a TV commercial urging viewers to contact Congress to protest the proposal to stop Saturday mail delivery to homes, and I felt a stab of nostalgia for the mailbox of my childhood. What a treasure trove it was. Because I was always “sending away” for things, watching for the mail was one of the highlights of every day of summer. Who knew when the super magnifying glass I was expecting might arrive? The pink stationery with my initial printed at the top of every sheet? The box of twelve #2 pencils with my name spelled in gold? Companies such as Cracker Jacks and Bazooka bubble gum encouraged me to save up my box tops and gum wrappers and send away for neat prizes.
My favorite aunt lived far away, in a strange Yankee land called Ohio, and from time to time the mail man stopped his car in the road, fished a box out of the back seat and delivered it to our front porch. The box might contain books, or clothes, or a stack of the National Geographic magazines my uncle collected. Once, the box contained a jar of marmalade that broke in transit and ruined the coat my aunt had sent.
First class postage for a letter was 3 cents. If Mom didn’t have a stamp handy, no problem. She sent me running barefoot across the hot gravel road to leave three pennies in a metal jar lid along with the letter. The mailman would pick up the letter, buy a stamp and post the letter for us.
Though summer was my favorite time for mail call, fall was exciting, too, because that was when the Christmas catalogs arrived. After school each day my brother and I spent hours poring over the pages of the hefty Sears catalog deciding what to request from Santa.
Fast forward thirty years to a life in the city. The commodious mailboxes of my childhood had shrunk to a mail slot in a metal box that opened only with a key. But the anticipation was still there. Then I began a writing career. In the days before electronic submissions, writers sent hard copies of manuscripts–300-500 pages–in sturdy cardboard boxes made especially for that purpose. Shorter pieces–kids’ stories, novellas, magazine pieces were sent off in brown manila envelopes, along with a second, self addressed and stamped envelope, in case the work was rejected and the material was returned. That was when I started hoping not to find the “BBE” ( big brown envelope) waiting in my mailbox. The BBE meant no sale.
These days we shop, bank, and communicate almost exclusively by e-mail. My manuscripts travel between here and my publisher’s offices via cyberspace. Today it’s rare to receive a written thank you note. Not that the electronic thank yous are any less heartfelt or any less appreciated, but it’s a different feeling t0 find a nice note card, handwritten and stamped, and mailed just for me.
When my grandmother became exasperated with all of us noisy kids underfoot, she would sometimes say, “If you don’t shape up, I’ll send you so far away it’ll cost fifty cents to mail y0u a letter.” Now that first class postage has climbed from the three cents of the 1950’s to 46 cents, Grandma’s threat has lost its punch.
But I still love finding out every day what’s in the mail.