Saturday, October 17, 2009

For love of forty-four cents

My love affair with the US post office started many years ago with penny postcards. My mother always had a supply on hand—blank cards with a purple stamp imprinted on one side. I don’t know how she used them or why, but they were a staple in our house as I grew up. Those were the days when letters cost just three cents to mail.

Over the years, grumbling about postal rates has also become something of a staple. If one is in the company of bellyachers, eventually postal prices will come up, as well as the subject of the postal monopoly. Gripe, gripe, gripe. Maybe the cost of postage has risen more than other expenses over my lifetime, but you won’t find me complaining.

At forty-four cents a pop, it’s the best damn deal in town. Imagine what it would cost for me to deliver a letter to South Carolina or Minnesota, California, or New Hampshire. The handling of a single letter—from picking it up from my mail box to delivering it correctly to someone else’s—is astonishing in, and of, itself. Just think of the journey of that one little note, from box to truck to bag to sorting assembly line to bag to truck to airport and the whole thing done in reverse. And correctly? Wow!

When my friend, Karen, was confined to her home in Vancouver, Washington, because of her illness, I wrote her as many as five times a week. For two years, and particularly the last six months of her life, I became a regular at the post office, standing in line to buy stamps, chatting with customers, and observing the clerks accepting packages, dispensing postage, providing information and even, once in a while, advice. Yes, sometimes the lines and the wait were too long. I moaned about that sometimes, but never—ever—did I complain about the cost of a stamp. A short note could cheer Karen up and kept our connectivity in tact, despite distance and illness.

Now that Karen is gone, I buy stamps much less frequently. It used to be that whenever I passed a post office, I’d do a quick inventory in my head. How am I fixed for postage? These days, I don’t need to—I write only occasional cards and notes now. But the weirdest thing happens to me whenever I see the U.S. flag flying over a post office: I get that little lurch in my heartbeat, that quick shiver inside my mouth, and one of those belly surges that together comprise a “pang.” In an instant, by just passing a post office, I am reminded of Karen and how much I miss her and all because of forty-four cents. There are many times in a week when I miss her, but my postal pangs have to be among the quirkiest.


Eloise said...

Sallie, you were such a good friend to Karen. Thank you for being who you are!

MargElmendorf said...

Great post Sallie, I totally agree with you about the cost of a stamp. It is amazing how the mail does go through for only 44 cents. I am very sad because they are closing the post office that I use which means that I have to travel a lot further to mail anything.