I've been thinking about the Post Office a lot lately. I'm sure it's because the one in my town is having its hours cut. There's a meeting tonight that I'm going to, more to show whatever postal official is coming that as a community member, I support my post office than to actually believe that we'll change the USPS's mind and our post office will go back to being open at full-throttle, with sorting and full window-hours, just as though the postal service hasn't been hemorrhaging money for years.
The thing is, I love the post office. I love getting mail. While I don't collect stamps, I have to say I get giddy when I buy a new book of Forever stamps and the design on them is something pretty neat, instead of just the ol' Liberty Bell-not that I don't love the Liberty Bell. It's just that all Liberty Bell, all the time gets boring. Whenever I order something online (and I do that a lot), if USPS is an option, I select it. I want to keep my post office rolling!
Before I get to my actual post, let me back up to those Forever stamps. Postal Service, why can't all the First Class stamps sold be "Forever" stamps? I read that the USPS lost about a bazillion dollars recently because they printed up a whole bunch of Simpsons-themed First Classers, and then a few months later, raised their rates, rendering all those shiny new first class stamps obsolete in one rate hike. What would be so wrong with making all first-class stamps "Forever" so we buy them now, for the current First Class rate, and can continue to use them through rate hike after rate hike. We the public would feel like we're beating the game, using Forever stamps we bought for $.44 when it costs $.50 to mail a regular first-class letter, and the USPS wouldn't have to File Thirteen a bunch of perfectly good stamps they [over]printed because they jacked up the price by two cents. I would think that the savings of that would help offset people like me buying Forever stamps and stockpiling them right now for future savings. We'll run out sometime, and will have to buy more at whatever higher Forever First Class rate is in place in the future. Maybe it wouldn't save all that much, but what I'd like to see the USPS and the government in general return to is the notion that "every little bit adds up!"
Okay, back to my love for the Post Office. Back when I was in Kindergarten, I went to the Harrison Valley Elementary School, back when Harrison Valley was still a charming little town and not the overgrown junkyard-eyesore it is today. The school was one of those adorable little town elementary schools housing a class each of kindergarten through sixth grade. I could look out the window of my kindergarten room and see Grandma Evans' house, and know that Aunt Flossie and Uncle Al's white trailer was next door. Maybe they were out on their patio if it was warm outside! It took me a couple weeks of kindergarten to warm up to the place, but once I did, I felt like my elementary school was another home.
To say I loved school and loved kindergarten would be an understatement of the first degree.
In early February of my kindergarten year, we did a unit on the post office, and it was a really big deal. Each of us got to write a letter to someone, and put it in an envelope, and address the envelope as per the Postal Service's specifications in 1984, and -this was the Major Big Deal- we would each get a stamp, and we'd walk as a class up the street to Kibbe's Busymart, where the local post office was housed, and we'd mail our letters, watching Betty, the shopkeep and town postmaster, cancel our letters, sort them, and send them on their way to their final destinations!
I remember the day of our trip to the Post Office like it was yesterday. It was cold, because it was February up here in the edge of the snowbelt. We all had to bring in our permission slips, which I think was achieved with 100% compliance from the fourteen boys and six girls in my kindergarten class. We sat at our tables, enveloped, sealed, and addressed letters in front of us, awaiting a stamp. And then, Mr. Smith, the principal of our elementary school as well as the School on the Hill (Northern Potter Children's School), arrived in our kindergarten classroom, with a roll of stamps in-hand.
It was always a Big Deal when Mr. Smith visited Harrison Valley Elementary School. We were always told to be on our best behavior, our super-best behavior, when the principal was in the building. And I remember the sense of awe that swept over the kindergarten room when we saw Mr. Smith that day. As a principal, Mr. Smith always knew everybody's name. He always made even the smallest kid feel like a big shot, at least for the few minutes he was talking to them. Starting in the fall of 1984, my class from Harrison Valley was moved to the School on the Hill, and it was not an unusual sight to see Mr. Smith at the doors at bustime, greeting or sending off the droves of kids in the school. By the time I was in second grade, Mr. Smith was the superintendent of the whole entire school district, and if he was mayor-like as principal of the elementary school, I thought he was quite presidential as a superintendent, still knowing everybody's name, still making any kid he met in the school feel like a big shot, even for a minute. Mr. Smith was obviously one of my favorite people at the school, and to this day, when I see him around, he hasn't changed a bit. Still makes you feel like a big shot, even only for a minute.
So it was a big thing to see Mr. Smith in our kindergarten room that cold February day of our Field Trip to the Harrison Valley Post Office. And despite any trouble or issues any of us might have had along the way differentiating between "right" and "left," when Mr. Smith asked us all to raise our right hands if we wanted a stamp for our letters, fourteen boys and six girls raised their right hands, just like that. We had to raise our RIGHT hands so Mr. Smith could see that we knew which side of the top of the envelope we were supposed to stick our stamps to. Then, once we all had our stamps in-hand, we licked them- yes, the self-adhesive stamps weren't out yet, at least not in Harrison Valley in 1984- and all made squinchy faces at the taste of the lick'em on the back of the stamps, because that's what a classroom full of 5-year-olds does when presented with licky-stamps, and then we all meticulously stuck our stamps perfectly on the upper right corner of our envelopes, leaving just a small border around the top and right edge of the stamp.
And then it was time to put on our coats and boots and walk the block up the street to the Post Office!
I'd been there a million times as a little kid, both for the Busymart and for the Post Office. Our post office box was 137. But it was something new, going to the post office as part of a Field Trip! We each slipped our letter through the outgoing mail slot, and then, THEN, we got to go through the split door (it was one of those doors that you could open just the top half, or open both halves and walk through!) and see where our letters had just gone! Betty took the letters from the bin, put them up on a counter, got out her stamp that said "HARRISON VALLEY, PA, 16927" and hand-cancelled each and every one of our letters. We got to see for ourselves. Then she showed us how she sorted mail into the post office boxes. Then we walked back down the street to our kindergarten room and had hot cocoa and Scooter Pies for our snack.
That field trip to the real post office was in preparation for a cardboard post office turning up very shortly in our kindergarten classroom. Remember, it was February. Valentine's Day month. So we made our own "mailboxes" for our Valentine's cards, and then on the appointed day, we brought in our Valentine's cards and "mailed" them. We took turns in groups sorting and delivering the Valentines to their proper mailboxes. I remember volunteering for extra time in the kindergarten post office, because I had so much fun sorting the Valentines cards.
I don't know if it was that experience that set off a fascination for all things postal, but I really do have one. I was sad to hear of "my" post office and its split-door and old post office boxes burning down in 2001, when Kibbe's Busymart burnt. It's still kind of a treat to me to drop into a post office built in the 20s or 30s, with their murals, and tile-work on the floor, and Art Deco boxes and windows. The town where I went to college had one, and so does Wellsville, NY and Coudersport, PA. My post office in Genesee is one of the newer ones, built in the 1980s, I think, when the Post Office was building all kinds of new post offices across the country. The boxes aren't the cool Art Deco ones you'll see in older post offices, but the building is very efficient and functional, and they always have my stamps and mailing supplies (I LOVE the flat-rate boxes!) In Wexford, where my sister lives, that post office is super-new, and super-automated. You can go in there and buy stamps, mail packages, and get your mail 24-7. I bought a bunch of "Forever" holiday stamps a couple years ago, at 9 p.m., from the stamp machine at the Wexford post office. And then the post office in Waikiki's International Marketplace in Honolulu, Hawaii was an interesting one. I didn't see any boxes there- I'm sure the people who live in Honolulu have their post office boxes in places other than in a tree-house-like post office in the heart of the International Marketplace in Waikiki. But for lack of post office boxes, this post office is downright bustling all day, every day, with tourists sending home post cards and packages- honestly, with souvenirs you'd buy in Hawaii, you're better off packing them up, putting them in a Flat-Rate box, and shipping them home to yourself instead of packing them in your luggage and leaving it up to chance and the mood of the airline baggage handlers. If I hadn't have been in Waikiki in Hawaii, I would have hung out at the post office a little longer, just to see how they do their day-to-day. But it was really fun to get home and have all my things I sent home from Hawaii stamped with "Aloha"
I know we can do a bunch of stuff online that we used to do and send through the mail. And I know there are other options for sending parcels now. But the thing is, I hope the post office turns things around and that we don't lose it. We might pay our bills online now, but we're always going to need to send real things. For a special birthday or a get-well wish, there's no beating a real card. Emails are fun, but there's nothing like getting an actual hand-written letter from a friend. We still need the post office.
I will be absolutely heartbroken if Zoe gets to kindergarten and instead of filling out Valentines for everybody in the class, and hand-delivering them to handmade mailboxes, they just email each other Valentine's greetings, or beam them to each other's kindersmartphones or whatever the choice electronic device in early childhood education enhancement will be in 2016-2017. I want her to know the pleasure of holding a real card in her hands and seeing a friend's early handwriting scrawled across the back of the card.
Nobody delivers the real like the post office.