USPS, You’re Losing Me

USPSIn spite of everything, I’ve always been a defender of the United States Postal Service. When a conservative Congress forced them to sock away an inordinately large and unnecessary amount into their pension fund in an effort to drive them into insolvency, I was sympathetic. When they faced opposition in their money-saving proposal to end Saturday delivery, I was supportive. (I have no problem receiving Saturday’s stack of junk mail on Monday.) And when anti-union people rail about generous benefits accruing to postal workers, I remind them “neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night…” the unofficial creed of the Constitution-mandated postal service.

And how has this loyalty been rewarded? Let me tell you.

My husband is fighting a serious illness, something we wrote about in last year’s Christmas letter, so he wanted this year’s letter to go out early to assure friends and relatives that he is not dead. We purchased the paper and envelopes in the summer and wrote the letter immediately after Thanksgiving. In the first week of December, I delivered 171 stamped letters to the post office (yes, it’s a large mailing list). The next day, a dozen or more were delivered to our own mailbox. I stormed down to the post office with the stack in hand, ready to do battle, but the clerk in the nicest possible way told me the mistake was mine: I never should have put my return address on the envelope’s back flap even though there was a specially designated area there for just that sort of thing. “I always tell people not to do that because it confuses the machine,” she said.

She added that I would not have to pay for the postage and then grabbed a marker and drew big black lines across the machine’s printing on the front and back of each envelope before tossing them into a box for re-delivery. I shuddered at the desecration inflicted on an envelope printed with doves of peace and told myself to live with it. The next day, one more letter came back to us. That one I made a new envelope for.

Having never been in the inner recesses of any post office, I have no idea of the procedures once the mail leaves my hands. Are there robots back there, feeding mail into machines? Are some of the workers visually impaired, a good thing for the post office to do just not in that particular job. And what about the delivery person, a nice friendly guy who is frequently replaced by strangers? Did nobody notice something odd about envelopes with stamps on one side and an address on the reverse? I tried to put it all out of my mind.

Until I began to wonder about the others. Were people receiving them or are stacks sitting in some postal facility in Tennessee? I have begun asking people if they’ve received the letter, something I’d rather not do as it puts them on the spot. Perhaps they looked at the envelope and thought, “Oh God, here’s that awful letter she always sends. I’ll read it after the holidays, if at all.” Our New York daughter said, “I don’t know. It could be here in this pile of mail I haven’t had time to look at.” Our Los Angeles daughter said, “No, we didn’t get it and I wondered why.”

So now I’ll spend the entire holiday season waiting for a giant stack of letters to come back to us, maybe in February. Thanks a lot, postal service.

Another Tradition Bites the Dust

“Oh no, you don’t write one of those awful things, do you?” The woman and I were discussing the approaching holiday season and enumerating the various chores each of us faced. I admitted I did indeed send out an annual Christmas letter and had been doing so for years. However, to myself and somewhat petulantly I thought, “I do try hard to make mine not awful.”

But let’s face it: Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Christmas letters are on their way out. One more tradition supplanted by the internet. If you’re on Facebook or one of the other social media sites, your friends and family have a continual barrage of news coming at them about wonderful you. An annual recap would just be redundant.

I, on the other hand, don’t participate in those things. It’s all I can do to wade through the email each day, deleting sales pitches from every outfit I ever did the smallest bit of business with – and many I’ve never before heard of – hoping in the process that nothing important gets overlooked and that friends understand when I don’t comment on every item they send my way. Wasn’t the digital age supposed to make life easier?

So I send a Christmas letter. As I explained in a post a year ago, the tradition began because our family was, from the start, far-flung. Five cross-country moves and a proliferation of different jobs have swelled the list of people we hope to stay at least nominally in touch with. This is the way we chose to do it.

The letters, beginning in 1973 and with some unexplained gaps, provide a running commentary on our little nuclear family and the times in which we lived. And, hoarder that I am, I’m loath to throw them away. That is why I’ve started to assemble them here on this website for others to read ̶ or not as they wish. It’s definitely a work in progress with just two letters up so far. There’s the one from 1973, written on a typewriter with a key that broke in mid-composition, and this year’s, which was produced on a computer and printed on glitzy holiday paper. More will follow.