The door on my mailbox rusted off years ago. And because the mailbox itself is encased in a brick structure that looks a little like a gnome house, neither the door nor the entire mailbox can be replaced without significant destruction. Without a door, it has long been an inviting locale for birds, spiders and the occasional lizard and I suspect that more than one rural mail carrier has been accosted, as have I, by a winged, multi-legged or scaled creature. My mailbox should be approached, I imagine it is obvious, with caution.
I have always loved mail. During the summer, when I was home in the middle of the day, I watched the mailman slowly edge his car off the road, lean across the front seat, and, in the black metal box that perched on a two-by-four at the edge of the road, leave for us like Santa Claus bundles of paper that connected us to the bigger world. I would run across the yard in bare feet, feeling the heat of the day on my shoulders, to pull out the sale papers, magazines and things I didn’t know were bills. It was one of the great delights of summer.
When I was 10, I met my friend Sandra at church camp and we began a correspondence that continues 54 years later. When my Uncle Steve was sent to Vietnam, we exchanged letters, his including the occasional trinket and Vietnamese money, mine including not much more than a series of how-are-yous and I-am-fines. I collected addresses like some children collect dolls. In 1992, I wrote my first Christmas letter, continuing the practice for over 20 years before I decided cards might be a better use of my recipients’ time.
I’ve been thinking a lot about mail the last couple of weeks. My mailbox has been fuller than usual, stuffed with political flyers, requests for year-end donations to worthy organizations, and, of course, Christmas cards. It has also been stuffed with sympathy cards and notes of condolence. Handwritten messages. Words of encouragement, Scripture references and reminiscences of my mother. Some of the return addresses I recognized. Some caused me to inhale sharply and suddenly with surprise.
Each one has gone into a box where it waits to be acknowledged by a reciprocal hand-written message, a thank you note, a few lines in which I will try to express the depth of my appreciation that someone took the time.
The postal service has been fairly universally maligned in this strangest of years. One woman I saw yesterday as I went into the post office to mail a package to Sandra from church camp stopped in the middle of the street to tell me, “You’d might as well not mail it! It’s not going to get there!” Maybe she has reason for her frustration. Maybe she hasn’t recently been enveloped in grief and been handed a momentary reprieve by an envelope with a cancelled stamp. Maybe she hasn’t — as so many people have done for me — taken the time.
Maybe she should. Maybe she should write a letter, send a card, buy a book of stamps and see how quickly she can use them.
I have always loved mail. And in these moments of mid-winter, when the days are short and the air is cold, I love it even more.