February 7, 2048
Dear Future Grandchild,
Many years ago, people couldn’t communicate instantaneously on their computers. If you go back far enough, computers didn’t even exist. I remember when my parents first bought a computer and we started communicating with people via the Internet. It was an amazing experience. I am a huge proponent of the Internet and even learned how to build websites using HTML and CSS coding. I used the Internet for research, connecting, blogging, and even did the online dating thing on a number of occasions.
But before the Internet became the sole source of communication, people wrote letters and cards by hand. They sent these along with bills and magazines, and whatever else, through the mail with a stamp, a sticker they purchased from the post office to show that the delivery service had been paid for. This process was called “snail mail” after the rise of the Internet and e-mail because it could take anywhere from 2 days to weeks for mail to arrive at its destination. Maybe this seems like a long time to you. Sometimes it did to me even before the advent of instantaneous communicating. But it was communication and connecting at it’s best.
Each house had a special mailbox near the end of the driveway into which all of these pieces of mail were placed. They were placed there by the United States Postal Service which delivered mail 6 days a week. In the early days, postmen and women would walk from house to house because the mailbox was actually attached to the home. But when I was a child, this was no longer common and you would see the postman or woman driving up and down the street. The driver’s seat on their mail truck was on the right just like a car in England except they continued to drive on the right side of the road so that they could reach every mailbox.
After the Internet explosion, use of the US Postal Service system waned significantly. People sent fewer letters and cards, opting for virtual substitutes. They started out by closing post offices in small towns and then began to deliver mail only 5 times a week, eliminating Saturday delivery (except for packages). Eventually, the postal service concept came to a close.
There were many financial issues that contributed to the downfall of the US Postal system. But for some reason, the issues could not be resolved despite the significance of the services provided by the USPS.
I was very sad to see the end of the postal system for a number of reasons beyond the obvious benefits of the services they provided. There is an incredible history in the development of the postal system. From the young men of the Pony Express who bravely rode across the country on horseback to the men and women who walked the streets in all conditions, their shoulders and feet bore the weight of our dialogues. They ensured that we could stay connected to loved ones near and far, that we got family news of life and death.
My maternal grandfather, your great-grandfather, was a member of the philatelic society and an avid stamp collector and dealer for most of his life. His love of stamps was evident and he spent his retired years buying and selling stamp collections. My paternal grandmother and great-grandmother were each Postmasters in their home towns. This was a very prestigious role for them to achieve. As Postmaster, they were responsible for management of the mail-distribution facility, letter carrier routes, supervising the clerks and letter carriers, and enforcing the rules of the organization.
As you can see, our family history is very much tied up in the history of the Postal service in this country. As you grow up, I’m sure you will hear from your mother or father about my affinity for the written word and how important it is to learn to write in cursive. These are all things that I’m sure I will harp on as your parent grows up. There is a beauty and an intimacy in handwritten notes that you cannot recreate with an e-mail.
Similarly, there was something special about receiving a piece of mail, particularly if it was written by hand, and I am sad to know that you will never get to experience this little joy. Many of the memories I have of my grandparents is through their handwriting. I remember what my maternal grandfather’s writing looked like, even though it was difficult to read. He sent things through the mail even though he lived very close by. You always knew you were getting something in the mail from my grandfather because he would load the envelope up with stamps instead of using a single stamp of the appropriate postage rate. I cherished those envelopes and saved many of them over the years.
I’m sure you will think I’m just an old fuddy-duddy set in my ways because as it was in my young adulthood, it is sure to be for you all about faster and easier. And perhaps that is true. I may be set in my ways. But I hope that you too will be able to pause in the constant whirling of the demands of modern life and realize the beauty of the written word and the magnificence of the concept of written communication and the great lengths that people went to in order to stay connected, especially when it wasn’t as easy as sitting down at a computer and flipping a switch.
Your future grandmother
I hope that the USPS still exists by the time I have children and grandchildren and that they can resolve their financial woes and continue to function. (The irony that it’s typed on a blog is not lost on me though.)