Checking the Mail

I grew up in a town that didn’t have home mail delivery. Mail was delivered to the Post Office, where families could rent boxes for their mail. There was also the possibility of general delivery for those who did not have boxes. Our mail address was P.O. Box 177. The system provided not only a reliable method of communication, but also an important point of social contact. People knew about what time the mail was delivered to the boxes each day and drifted towards the post office at about the same time as their neighbors. As our family business grew, the volume of our mail and therefore the size of our box grew and we graduated to a box with a letter instead of a number.

My first personal mailbox was part of my college experience. We had mailboxes in the Student Union building accessed by keys that were issued at the same time as we received the keys to our dorm rooms. I got into a routine of checking the mail every day when I went to the Student Union building for my meals. I remember a sense of anticipation as I watched for letters from home and other items that might show up in the mail.

We had a bank of mailboxes in our apartment building when we lived in Chicago and returned to a small town post office for our years in North Dakota. In Idaho we had delivery directly to our home and had a mailbox near the front door of our home. Here, we have a bank of mailboxes down the street.

My attitude towards the mail has changed over the years, however. With the rise of email, there is less personal mail, though we still have many friends who send real paper cards and letters at Christmas time. The rest of the year, our mail falls into two categories: bills and advertisements. The bills are getting fewer and fewer each year as we go to electronic communications for those items. Many of our routine bills such as utilities and mortgage payments are automated and come out of our checking account each month. Our bank statements and other official documents now are delivered through the bank web site. Our electric bill still comes in the mail as well as the city water and garbage bill, even though those bills are paid by electronic funds withdrawal. The city and county still send our tax statements through the mail. And we are old fashioned to still file our income taxes on paper forms, though we obtain the forms by downloading them from the IRS web site.

There seems to be no way, however, to stem the flow of unwanted advertisements that come through the mail. Companies obtain our address through several different means. Those with whom we do online business, get our address from our orders. We give them both our billing address and delivery address, which in our case is usually the same. They use that address to mail us catalogues and flyers and offers. I’ve never figured out how the fascination with catalogues continues. We don’t use catalogues to guide our purchases for companies whose products we find online. They mail us a catalogue and it goes straight into the recycling bin. Some of those companies must invest more in printing and mailing catalogues to us than the amount of profit they have made from our purchases. There is one company that sends multiple catalogues to our home and duplicates of all of those catalogues to the church and we probably have done less than $10 worth of business with them in the past 5 years. I don’t have a clue how to get them to stop mailing catalogues.

Some are almost embarrassing. I once ordered a small part for a boat from a company back east and had it delivered to the church, because I was not anticipating being home to receive the package. Since that order, the company mails its catalogues of high-end and very expensive yacht accessories and clothing to the church. I’m not exactly a member of the yacht club and I’m not inclined to purchase clothing in that price range, but the catalogues keep coming.

A lot of companies focus on selling clothing. REI, the outdoor equipment cooperative, of which I have been a member for nearly 40 years, used to be a place for specialty items such as climbing ropes, tents and other outdoor gear. Their catalogue is now primarily clothing. Even Wooden Boat and Lee Valley Tools have clothing sections in their catalogues these days. I’m not all that interested in paying money to wear clothing with and advertising logo on it.

The result of all of this is that I’ve lost that sense of excitement about checking the mail. Most days, I don’t even go to the mailbox. My wife picks up the mail on her way home from work and places it on the table for me to sort. Much can go directly into the recycling bin. A couple of bills need to be paid and/or filed. I read some of the newsletters and magazines that we receive.

Yesterday, however, there was a fun bit of nostalgia in the mail. We got our Burpees Seed Catalogue. It reminded me of days past when the winter cold was given the added bonus of dreaming about spring with the arrival of the seed catalogue. Pages of pictures of lush gardens and healthy fruit trees give a way to imagine a garden that is far more productive and lush than the actual garden that we will have in the summer. We don’t order very many things from the seed catalogue these days - just a few corn and bean and squash seeds. Most of the rest of our garden items come from local sources. I harvest my own sunflower seeds and occasionally supplement with seed packets from the hardware store. We get our tomato plants from a local source. There is no way that the few seeds we order justify the cost of that full-color seed catalogue. But I like to look at the catalogue.

It is almost enough to get me excited about checking the mail.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!