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Posted: May 14, 2010 12:01 a.m.

Where’s the mail?

Our trusty little mail truck has for years shown up just in time for lunch, but no more. It was until recently a pleasant surety in otherwise unpredictable days. We counted on an influx of catalogs or magazines for a quick read over a bowl of soup or leftovers for lunch. Notices, bills, alerts and warnings could be dealt with on the same day they were received.

For reasons unknown, our little mail truck now shows up at day’s end, sometimes even in the dark before the days began to lengthen. Wonder if the postmaster knows where it’s been? Goofing off? Hiding out from its supervisors? Taking a long break and hoping not to be caught? We may never know. It comes and goes surreptitiously. Sometimes we even forget about the mail until the next day. We’re getting used to the not-knowing-ness of what our little truck is off doing at mid-day. All we know is that it’s changed its schedule with no notification. It feels we’ve been ditched by someone we’re fond of.

Now there’s talk in D.C. of doing away with Saturday mail delivery to reduce the red ink in the postal service’s budget. Too many of us aren’t writing letters anymore or using other forms of delivery so there’s not much left to keep the U.S.P.S. in the black. Actually, giving up Saturday delivery would be OK with me. Not much of any substance arrives on Saturday, and we‘re usually too busy to notice anything that does show up. Maybe that’s the best day for your property tax bill or demand for an IRS audit to show up.

I recall pleasantly the days when mail mattered more than it does now. As a teenager at summer camp at the FFA facility, I met a cute fellow from a town called Bethlehem over in Barrow County. Long distance calling was out of the question, and, of course, there were no cell phones or e-mail for staying in touch. So we wrote letters, and I, not so casually, would hang out along the fence line waiting for the mail carrier to show up on the highway east of town around mid-day. A letter received got an immediate response. It wasn’t love, but simply a testing of those early flowering feelings that teens believe are exclusive to them. By the time the school year began, our mail-borne flirtation had waned.

The governor for whom I worked seemed anything but mischievous to most people; yet he had his own story involving the U.S. mail that revealed a hidden side. It seems he and his older brother were on the UGA campus at the same time, frisky boys from Cartersville enjoying young life away from the eyes of their proper mom and dad’s eyes. They got involved in a prank or two on campus — one involved an infamous panty raid where they were only observers, they claimed. A warning letter to the parents was sent out, and these two knew exactly when the mail would land. They drove home from Athens and followed the mail truck down the road, only to snatch it out of the box before their parents did. Mom and dad were none the wiser until the boys ’fessed up some time later when they’d outgrown their mischief-making.

Letters from the stash of letters in my keepsake box — back when family members still wrote letters — never fail to delight. "Are you coming for Halloween?" wrote my youngest brother one year. "This year I’m going to be a hobo again. I’m going to take one of the cats this time if mama will let me. If it’s okay, I’ll take one every year until I’ve taken them all." From another brother about 15: "Life has been good to me. I mean I think I have fulfilled my propose (sic) in life. I’ve gone to 5 states, flown in a plane, drove a car, broken an arm, dislocated a finger, gone camping in the mountains and experienced lose (sic) by death. So I think that I have filled my capacity in life…." (Now 51, he’s achieved quite a bit more than he thought he would.)  

The dearest letters are those from my mom with her own kind of counsel and advice at troubled times. With a house full of eight kids, she never had much time for one-on-one, but in her letters probably written when the kids were off at school and her husband off in the fields or woods, she made herself perfectly clear.

Something about e-mails isn’t quite as fulfilling as finding a yellowed, hand-written letter tucked away in a special drawer. Say, who’s got letter paper? I’ve got some letters to write.

Barbara Morgan is a resident of Covington. Her column appears every other Friday.

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