In innocent days of youth, I met the first fellow who might have been considered a "boyfriend" at the FFA-FHA Camp just south of town. He lived in Bethlehem, so when camp ended, we went our separate ways with pledges to write often until our paths would cross again. On Rural Free Delivery Route Four, the mail came about 11 a.m., so I'd sneak away from home about then and hang on the front fence line waiting for the mail carrier. The boy's letters were consumed voraciously as I trudged up that long driveway home, relishing every word. That summer flew by and the boy flew away, but memories of that breathless anticipation of getting a letter in the mail remain fresh. I also remember the simplicity of the times in which my mom would place a few coins carefully in the box with letters to be mailed, and the carrier would see that postage was affixed and the mail sent on its way.
In the earliest days of this country, our founders considered mail service a top priority. Benjamin Franklin, as you recall, was the colonies' first postmaster general. A cabinet-level postal department was created in 1792. The first postal stamp was printed in 1847 - last year, over 25 billion stamps were printed - and in 1918, airmail service was instituted. The U.S. Postal Service is this country's second largest employer behind Walmart, and today has some 574,000 employees, over 35,000 retail stores and 230,000 mail routes. Last year, it delivered 171 billion pieces of mail, but that's a major drop-off since 2007, a significant factor in its current fiscal instability.
The Internet and package delivery services have drained business away from the post office, and despite cost cutting, rate hikes and measures meant to improve efficiency and productivity, the post office teeters on the brink of insolvency. Many small and rural post offices are on the chopping block, and the end of Saturday mail delivery is being discussed. That's a no-brainer, in my opinion. Nothing interesting or worthwhile ever shows up in our box on Saturdays.
National mail service has been a great unifier of this country. We love the prospects for what might show up in the box daily, we count on word from loved ones far away, and we jointly loathe the arrival of bills and junk mail. Many of us love our mail carriers and the people behind the counter. Our mail carrier has a smile like a lighthouse. How he bears heat and freezing temps is beyond me. But "neither sleet nor snow...," as you know.
OK, I'm really, really sorry about the precarious state of postal service finances, but I've got a few bones to pick with them of late. Too often I'm finding that bills mailed on time don't arrive on time and a late fee is added. Rent checks from a small family business are getting lost in the mail, it seems. A group with which I'm affiliated mailed some 60 invitations to a local event, and we've yet to determine if most of them ever arrived.
I even started taking my mail to the Oxford post office instead of the Covington post office, thinking that might make a difference, but I was told it wouldn't by the cheerful ladies at the counter. I wrote the Covington postmaster about the problems about a month ago, but I haven't heard a word since then. Maybe he didn't get the letter.
All this leads me to the fact that I now feel I have no choice but to start bill paying on-line, a momentous decision on my part, as many of my friends might agree.
They know my reluctance to step fully into the technological age that seems to morph from one stage to another in the course of just days. I'll sound like nothing more than a dinosaur when I admit that I'm still not on Facebook and don't have a smartphone or an I-pad. I don't keep my calendar on my simple phone or send text messages.
It's been hard for me to accept that banking on-line is a safe and secure process, yet bank statements, investment accounts and bills are now delivered on-line instead of on paper. The first time I paid a bill via computer, my hands shook and my breath came in short bursts, but when the email arrived saying I had successfully paid the amount owed, the relief was palpable. "That was easy," I thought. "Think I'll do it again." And I did.
And so, Post Office, while some circumstances beyond your control have soured your business, your lack of reliability and responsiveness have soured me on a relationship with you. Send me an email if you want to talk about it.
Barbara Morgan is a Covington resident with a background in newspaper journalism, state government and politics. She chairs the Newton Advisory Committee.