Many of us had delays this past Christmas season in receiving letters and packages. A warning banner on the US Post Service tracking website explains why, “Unprecedented volume increases and limited employee availability due to the impacts of COVID-19. We appreciate your patience.”
I’ll second that. We all should be more patient about “grains of sand on the beach” like mail delivery. There clearly are far more important things in life to worry about. Especially during a pandemic. And, anyway, this is the season we’re supposed to focus on gratitude for what we DO have.
Still, I mailed a package from the Stella Post Office on Dec. 8 that has yet to be delivered to my kids as of writing this column on New Year’s Eve. The package stopped being tracked by the Post Office on Dec. 20. And we received from Ohio a simple, First Class Christmas card on the day after Christmas … postmarked on Dec. 12.
But I understand delays. Stuff happens. Packages get misplaced. COVID is real and is impacting employees. No one is perfect. It isn’t my intent to disparage the Post Office, a vital organization served by many fine people.
Ah, but those Christmas season instances of Post Office delays I mention above “ain’t got nothing” on an experience I had a few years ago. I doubt any of my readers can beat this one.
I deeply love my kids — two daughters and a son — and amongst offering other expressions of love, I write them (and my grandkids too) real letters. I mean cursive writing on real note paper in a real envelope sealed with a lick of my tongue.
It’s awfully old fashioned I suppose, but I often include with my letters real pictures and articles that bump up the bulk of the envelope and therefore its weight. So I stand in line at the post office to have the envelopes weighed and pay to have real stamps applied to the envelope representing the appropriate postage for my letters.
While I’m confident in the love my kids possess for me and don’t fret over it, I would like to get a real response back from them. But real letters are rarely, if ever, returned. I’ll occasionally get an email or text response that my letter was received and thanking me. We tried, but maybe we didn’t raise them right. But I hope it’s more likely just that it’s not a part of my children’s modus operandi in 2020 to write real letters.
And that’s OK because I don’t write letters to them in anticipation of getting a response. Writing letters is a little way of giving, of sending a little of myself, a little of my time, a little of my handiwork, my thoughts, and yes even a little of my DNA (through my saliva) to those about whom I care.
Then a letter arrived from our eldest daughter some time ago. A real letter! And it was a thick letter with real, albeit insufficient, postage. The postmark was illegible. But the “Postage Due: 23¢” stamped in red was (inevitably, like death and taxes) still legible, as was the return address. The envelope was frayed, spotted, dirty and looked, well, beat up like it had been caught up in tumbleweed in the desert and rolled over and over again in the sand and dirt for miles. And it very well could have been trapped in tumbleweed, postmarked as it was in Killeen, Texas, desert home of U.S. Army Fort Hood and its 1st Cavalry Division.
Fort Hood is where my daughter was stationed with her U.S. Army Calvary captain husband and the first of her two boys, over 15 years ago. Sure enough, when I opened the envelope, the handwritten letter was dated a decade ago. It had just arrived at our Swansboro home nearly 10 years after having been mailed.
The slow, southern drawl I love — that way of speaking that represents the simpler, gentile, more dawdling way of life in the South — this surely couldn’t be the reason for the letter taking a decade to be delivered. We’ll never know for sure why it took so long to travel the 1,400 miles between Killeen and Swansboro.
My daughter assured me she had not recently mailed me a long misplaced and then found letter from her new home in Maine where she now lives.
Inside the envelope were real pictures of my daughter and son and me at a decade old college football game. Vivid descriptions of her life in Killeen with a new baby boy and her husband deployed in Iraq with a mechanized infantry company leapt from the letter.
Long overdue — over a sixth of my lifetime — or not, I sure appreciated getting that letter. Admittedly though, I wondered just for a moment whether the post office should be paying ME for having to wait 10 years to receive that letter, one of many I have — somewhat naively I suppose — hoped to receive from my kids.
The next day though, dutifully, I included a short note of explanation and two dimes and three pennies — the price of that postage due — in a small plastic dish in our mailbox for our rural route mail lady. Certainly the letter from my daughter and enclosed pictures themselves were worth far more than the 23 cent postage due price.
But clearly the mystery of where that letter had been, what it had seen and heard in that decade, the tales of my daughter’s past life in Texas it revealed, the memories of our time together at that football game, and where in my imagination that tumbleweed had traveled from the Fort Hood desert: priceless.
Tideland News contributor Barry Fetzer writes from his home on Queens Creek.