Reporting Aside

February 17, 2013

Winds of change bring back memories of disappointed postal service rounds

By Amy Calder acalder@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

I never thought I’d see the day the U.S. Postal Service would announce it planned to stop Saturday delivery.

Who ever would have imagined 30 years ago that we’d be able to send letters and other correspondence electronically, effectively weakening the power of the post office?

And the announcement that first-class mail would not be delivered during the recent Saturday snowstorm really hit home.

I’ve always thought of the U.S. Post Office as a huge, ironclad institution that was impenetrable, and as much a part of our American fabric as the U.S. Constitution, Mom and apple pie.

The mail service being very much on our minds, I, my husband and four others shared mail stories over dinner recently.

We were on Nantucket visiting friends, and they had cooked up an incredible dinner of pasta and fresh scallops with broccoli.

I don’t remember quite how it started, but we began to talk about lost things, such as mail.

Kitty recalled that in 1973 she sent her old college roommate and husband in New York City a special gift for their first Christmas as a married couple. It was a sterling silver snowflake ornament with the couple’s names and the date engraved on it.

After weeks of not hearing from them, Kitty finally called to ask if they had received it. They had not. A postal trace netted no results.

Months passed. One day, the couple called Kitty with the strangest but most delightful news: A woman down the street called to say she thought she had a package intended for them. It was a tattered, worn parcel with only the name Jeff and a “D,” the first letter of his last name, visible on the addressee line. The street name was clear.

It turns out the woman had received and opened the package and, realizing it was not meant for her, started doing some research. She pored through the New York City phone book, scouring names until she found someone on her street whose name was Jeff and whose last name started with “D.”

The couple got their snowflake and Kitty, finally, got a good night’s sleep.

She recounted another odd story involving the same couple, who now live in Ohio. Kitty long ago had sent them all her old Barbie dolls for their daughter. The daughter is now grown up, so they recently packaged the dolls up and mailed them back to Kitty. They never arrived and were never found.

Back in the early 1980s, I was living in western Massachusetts and sent a package containing a book and a few other small items to my sister in Maine. It never arrived. Ever.

Several weeks after mailing it, I read a story in the local newspaper about a postal worker who was arrested after police raided his apartment and found bundles of mail and packages. I never got my package back.

Another time, I received correspondence from a dead letter office on the West Coast — a letter that someone had tried to send me months prior. It was tattered and torn and placed inside a plastic bag with a message from the post office about its circuitous route.

I wonder if we’ll be telling such stories years from now, when there’s no such thing as a post office. How sad that would be.

The number of tales we have about lost mail are microscopic compared to the hundreds of happy memories we carry of receiving good or fascinating news and packages via mail.

I remember when, just a few years ago, we’d get a big, daily bundle of mail at the office and someone would spend time sorting and distributing it.

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