Random Musings From Gerry Mandel-Fall 2017

Disappearing Letters, Distinctive Mailboxes: A Conundrum

The mail. Now that’s a word which has changed in meaning and importance.

The mail used to be eagerly anticipated. The mailman (before there were mailwomen) might bring good news from a distant relative, expressions of “I miss you” echoing a romantic evening, a note of congratulations or “send money, please” or “You’re invited to help us celebrate…” The thrill of the unopened envelope was a daily possibility.

Think about the last time you received an actual letter in the mail. Been awhile, right? I’m talking about words-written-ortyped- on-stationery-in-an-envelope-witha- stamp kind of mail. I think the last real letter I got was from my cousin Myron, who passed away four years ago. He needed a loan. It went unanswered. I don’t count letters from Hillary and Donald and Claire and Whitey Herzog as real letters. Sorry, guys. Those also go unanswered.

This lack of a written diary of our daily lives worries me. What will future historians be able to cobble together about us? Only little parcels of information from emails, tweets, instagrams, and Facebook comments. Not a lot to go on. I have a book of the letters of Abraham Lincoln. Also of Tennessee Williams. The latter is actually more than I want to know about Tennessee. Here’s a historical fact: Two former presidents – John Adams and Thomas Jefferson – exchanged 150 letters between 1812 and 1823. This, incredibly, followed twelve years of silence between them caused by a bitter political feud. But once they made up, the letters flowed like Sam Adams beer. That’s an average of one letter per month, more than I used to write to my mom when I was in the army.

But we still hold expectations of getting a letter in the mail. I’d even like to get another one from Myron. Actual fact: The sole representative of the people who deliver the mail is the National Association of Letter Carriers. That’s really their name. Founded in 1889, they claim to be “the only force that fights to protect the interests of city letter carriers.” This is not a complaint about our postal service. I think they do a terrific job. I just think the NALC might The mail. Now that’s a word which has changed in meaning and importance. Arts & Thoughts Disappearing Letters, Distinctive Mailboxes: A Conundrum seem more up-to-date with a relevant name. Maybe National Association of Postage-Paid Carriers. Just a thought.

While I’m on the subject of mail: Consider the lowly state of the mail box. Maybe even yours. As you drive down your street, notice the mail boxes. It seems everyone buys theirs at the same store. A redundancy exists that chills the soul. I don’t understand it. People spend big money on their homes, yards, patios and pools and driveways and – yes, even their awnings and trees. But mailboxes? Bland and black, ignored and ill-conceived, even though we visit them every day.

There are a few exceptions. Not far from my house live two families who I don’t know but greatly admire. They exhibit pride in their mailboxes. They have impeccable taste, a sense of worth and, yes, a sense of humor. They have discovered that your mailbox can say a lot about you. Their mailboxes transcend the utilitarian into the realm of art.

I doubt if they get more personal letters than the rest of us. But that isn’t the point. Chances are their mailboxes are stuffed with the same materials we get – flyers, brochures, magazines, statements, overdraft notices, lost dog postcards. But it doesn’t matter. Unlike people, it’s what’s outside that counts. It’s the messenger, not the message.

They were called letter carriers. Then the letters disappeared. Now they are postal workers. They do their job well. But I wonder how many of them miss the thrill of delivering a personalized envelope, hand written, of imagining the delight they bring as they listen for that shout, “The mail’s here!” And the letter awaits, in that distinctive mailbox that says, “I still care.”