• 81°

Al Batt: Put a zip in your code with a forever stamp on your letter

Yales from Exit 22 by Al Batt


She said she’d had a dream about me.

“Oh, oh,” was the thought that came galloping into my mind. I heard menacing drums coming from the jungle there. I must have done something idiotic in her dreams because I do that regularly in real life.

She told me she’d dreamed I was a mailman.

Mailman? That was a good thing. As my grandfather, the postmaster general would have said, had he been the postmaster general, “I love the post office.”

I was dragging folks around Alaska when we made a stop at a remote store. It wasn’t a remote village because there was no village. It wasn’t truly remote as it had a road going by. It was definitely a store — a combination grocery store/hardware store/restaurant/bar/post office. The groceries carried “best if used by” dates from the Civil War era. I asked the proprietor when the mail came in. He told me twice a week. I expressed surprise. “Why would you want mail more than two days a week?” he bellowed with obvious glee.

I ordered a meal. It was old, but good food. I sat by locals. One guy had hardtack crumbs in his beard. I mentioned the biweekly mail delivery. Here are their comments.

“Is that what that fool told you? It comes in more often than that. He’s just too lazy to put it in the boxes.”

Another nodded and added, “I come in every day, hoping for mail.”

A third said, “I come every day because I can never remember what days the mail comes in.”

The first guy reined in the conversation by stating, “I like mail.”

I do too. Sure, it brings bills, but it doesn’t produce them. I’d get them anyway. It brings handwritten letters. Putting pen to paper is a serious undertaking. All the ink in the world won’t fit into tattoos. No cursive? Curses! People need to put that skill to good use.

Comic books had ads for X-ray Specs. “Scientific optical principle really works. Loads of laughs and fun at parties.” It was only $1 plus postage and handling. I sent for it and checked the mailbox each day. It took forever by my measure. I did everything I could, which was to wait longer. The ordered item arrived when it should have. The anticipation was better than the specs. The laughs and fun were a small load. Feathers were glued inside the cardboard “lenses” and meant to mystify. Going to the mailbox had become a vital part of my day, but I should have gotten the sea monkeys.

My father enjoyed “Capper’s Weekly,” “The Farmer,” “Reader’s Digest,” “Popular Mechanics” and newspapers that arrived by mail. It brought local papers and the weekly Kossuth County Advance and the Algona Upper Des Moines papers. Those two Iowa newspapers allowed my parents to keep track of who was still alive in their mother county. The mail addressed to the occupant was mine. Mother read letters to us. Laughter and tears greeted thoughtfully penned missives.

We raised a red flag on the mailbox when we had mail to go. Harvey Bell, the rural carrier, had a plastic window on the right side of his vehicle with a hole big enough for an arm and the mail to go through. We went to the peeping post office to pick up boxes of baby chicks. Harvey’s wife Iris didn’t like him driving around with young chicks. I treated Harvey with respect. He knew where I lived.

Many a family heirloom is a stack of letters tied in a ribbon. Will Facebook posts or emails achieve that status? I don’t know.

Walking to the mailbox is good exercise. Newspapers wait for me there. My wife worked part-time (meaning full-time hours with no benefits) for the post office. I love hearing from rural carriers and their sightings in the natural world. Some states use a Rural Mail Carrier Survey to determine wildlife populations. The Postal Service delivers over 27 mail pieces daily (that’s a guesstimate), is a significant employer of veterans and receives no tax dollars for operating expenses. It’s exempt from some taxes and has been around longer than the Constitution. Benjamin Franklin was named the first postmaster general in 1775.

I look at the price of a stamp. It’s a bargain. That’s why UPS and FedEx use the USPS. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Nothing is. Must it be profitable? Our federal government isn’t.

I enjoy going to the mailbox. I know my way there and back.

Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday.