The Hidden Treasures of Snail Mail

Early postal carrier in his Model T

Issues of time and convenience always have bedeviled the postal service. Whose time is being wasted and who’s being inconvenienced are open questions, of course, and they’ve been debated since people first started lining up to buy stamps – which is to say, since about 1855.

While the sign on this 1916 postal truck certainly implied that the installation of mail boxes would save time for postal customers, it equally was true that curbside mailboxes saved mailmen the time and effort required to walk to the door of each home.  In the end, I suppose customers and carriers then were much like customers and carriers today. As long as the mail was delivered, everyone was happy.

The technology has changed, but contemporary complaints can sound remarkably similar. On September 23, when email wasn’t being delivered to inboxes in a timely fashion, plenty of people weren’t happy. For a substantial percentage of users, Gmail had slowed to a crawl and messages had begun taking as much as several hours to reach their intended recipients. Impatience began to run rampant, and soon the Twitterverse was exploding with queries, confusion and frustration.

Twitchy, that aggregator of all things weird, snarky or interesting on the web, began documenting the complaints:

“Carrier pigeons. Message in a bottle. Tin cans with string. All more reliable than Gmail today.”
“Same thing happened to me today on Gmail. Lost a tutoring opportunity because an email showed up in my box 2.5 hours late”
 “My Gmail is FREAKING OUT. Consequently, so am I.”
“Mi Gmail está loco…”

I laughed when I saw Twitchy had saved the worst for last. Someone had thrown out the ultimate insult, one based on a phrase that’s been around for years but which gained currency after the introduction of email.

Gmail not working reminds me of snail mail.

Even on a screen, the expression “snail mail” can fairly drip with that combination of ridicule, contempt and disdain that so often pops up when the U.S. postal system is mentioned. It’s an attitude I’ve never fully understood. I use email, of course.  I send the occasional electronic greeting card and I can be as tempted as the next person to forward the latest cute animal photo.

But I still pay bills the old-fashioned way. I’ve been known to send postcards while traveling and, despite the flaws of the system, I’m remarkably sentimental about my post office and its employees.  As for slow – when it comes to mail, I know “slow”, and it makes me grateful for what we have.

During my years in Liberia, postal service was a complicated matter. Even in the capitol city of Monrovia, delivery could be sporadic as well as slow.  In the interior, the lack of passable roads during the rainy season, a dearth of governmental agencies or private companies to carry the mail and certain cultural differences made creative problem-solving a necessity.

If I wanted to send a letter back to the States and wasn’t heading to Monrovia myself, I would give it either to the hospital pilot or to a co-worker who was making the trip. Once there, it would be taken to the main post office and sent on its way. Small parcels or important documents that weren’t time-sensitive often were given to  people traveling to countries where mail could be desposited with a fair degree of confidence it actually would reach its destination.

For incoming mail, the process was reversed. Letters from the States were sent to an address in Monrovia, then picked up and hand-carried up the road for delivery. Sometimes, a letter would arrive in less than two weeks. Just as often, it would take three weeks or even four. How many never arrived was impossible to know.

Remembering it now, I find the parallels to early American frontier life remarkable.

In Shambaugh, Iowa, settlers took turns going into town to collect the mail and purchase provisions.  Sharing the responsibility was reasonable, since “going to town” meant traveling a hundred and twenty mile round trip to the closest post office in Savannah, Missouri. Significantly bad roads and an absence of bridges meant slow travel, as much as two or three days in each direction.

Eventually, things speeded up when a post office was established thirty-five miles away at Frank Marshall’s river crossing. In 1852, Marshall came from Weston, Missouri to establish a ferry and trading post for westward-bound travelers. When he received permission in 1854 to open a post office, he renamed the town Marysville, in honor of his wife. At the time, Marysville was the first home station on the Pony Express route west of St. Joseph, Missouri, and today its post office is the oldest continually operating post office in Kansas.

By the time Frank Marshall opened the Marysville post office, the development of a national postal system was well underway. In 1823, Congress designated all navigable waters as post roads. Mail began moving by train in 1832,  and the establishment of Star Routes in 1845 allowed contractors like the Pony Express to begin moving mail. In 1855, pre-payment for letters and parcels by the sender became a requirement, and the stamp-selling business soared.

The first regular mail service along the Santa Fe trail, between Independence, Missouri and Santa Fe, New Mexico, was begun in 1850.  David Waldo, an Independence physician who had become a Santa Fe trader, won a four year contract to deliver the mail once a month. He chose the Cimarron Branch of the trail as his preferred route, and guaranteed delivery in twenty-nine days.

Even as the postal system was being established and improved, people found creative ways to communicate in the gaps.  One of the best-known landmarks on the Santa Fe trail was the Post Office oak in Council Grove, Kansas. Located in a campground used by travelers along the trail, the eighty-foot tree functioned as a “post office” from about 1820 to the 1840s.  Messages about water sources, Plains Indian unrest, encounters with Mexican soldiers or simple family news were left in a cavity at the base of the tree.  The next caravan to arrive would “clear the tree’s cache”, read the messages, update them as necessary and leave them for the next group of travelers.

Of course, today’s critics of “snail mail” aren’t much concerned with life along the Santa Fe trail. They just want their letters and parcels delivered in a timely manner, and they generally get their wish.

What often seems more irritating to people is the whole process of “going to the post office”.  Picking up mail that requires a signature, buying stamps, waiting in line to mail a parcel or having overseas postage calculated certainly takes time. Occasionally, it takes a lot of time.

I can’t say I enjoy the process, but I don’t particularly mind it. I’ve been going to the same small post office long enough to know the clerks by name. We talk about their babies and their upcoming vacations as easily as customers in line talk about the weather, the fishing or the new restaurant in town.

Granted, there’s always the customer who responds to the question, “Do you need stamps today?” with other line-slowing questions such as, “What do you have? Are there any pretty ones?”  I know this because I am that customer, and have been since my stamp-collecting father introduced me to the wonder of these tiny necessities.

The portion of my father’s collection that I kept, American stamps spanning a period from about 1930 to 1975, includes the whole sweep of American culture and history. Their artistry and variety is marvelous.

There are tributes to painters, writers, photographers and film-makers.

There are acknowledgements of the contributions made by chemists, mathematicians, physicists and inventors.

Cultures have been celebrated, from indigenous peoples to immigrants from around the world.

And always, there have been reminders of the great natural beauties of the land, as well as tributes to the naturalists, ecologists and preservationists who study them and work on their behalf.

More and more often, I find myself using selections from Dad’s collection as normal postage.  They’re perfectly acceptable to the post office, save a bit of money and can delight a recipient, especially when I tailor the stamps to someone’s personal interests.

As common as the stamps might be, they represent a marvelous system of mail delivery and perfectly meet the criteria laid down by William Morris.  “Have nothing in your house which you do not think to be useful or believe to be beautiful,” Morris said. Had he lived to see the development of our postage stamps, he surely would have celebrated their unique combination of utility and beauty. Whatever we may think of the postal system, there’s no question that our stamps are “useful bits of beauty”.

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85 thoughts on “The Hidden Treasures of Snail Mail

    1. nia,

      Oh, things do change! Sometimes they even change for the better, which is good for us all. It’s fun to look back, and enjoy our memories of the old ways, too. Sometimes how we live hasn’t changed so very much at all.

      Thank you for stopping by, and your nice comment. A good week to you!


  1. I’m pro-postal and always have been. I’m annoyed with people who are not. Can you imagine losing it and trying to create it again? Privatize the postal service?

    I lived in a tiny town in WI where one day I asked our postmistress why there was no mail on a day when there should have been mail and she responded: “Because Karl didn’t feel like it.” Stunned at first, accepting of yet more small town behavior, I walked out into the snow and drove home smiling to myself.

    1. Martha,

      The story of Karl is wonderful. It reminds me of a postmaster who established a bit of a track record himself.

      William Faulkner was postmaster for the University of Mississippi for nearly three years. During that time, according to reports, he was given to “writing novels on the job, losing and occasionally throwing away mail, ignoring colleagues and customers, playing bridge during opening hours, and regularly turning up late only to leave early.”

      Eventually, he was forced to resign. Here’s his letter of resignation, from the wonderful “Letters of Note” blog:

      [October, 1924]

      As long as I live under the capitalistic system, I expect to have my life influenced by the demands of moneyed people. But I will be damned if I propose to be at the beck and call of every itinerant scoundrel who has two cents to invest in a postage stamp.

      This, sir, is my resignation.

      (Signed, Wm Faulkner)

      Given the quality of those novels, I guess we can forgive him.


  2. Wonderful post Linda. I love the William Morris quote at the end.

    I also always send postcards from my travels and to the best of my knowledge everyone receives them (I still don’t know what happened to the one postcard from South Africa which took three months to get to North America!)

    1. rosie,

      It was an astonishment to me the day I realized my grandparents’ generation carried on most of their correspondence by post card. They had no telephones, so if one was arriving by train, needing extra fabric to complete a dress, or wanting to make plans for a picnic, it was done by postcard, even when towns were only 15 miles apart.

      While I’m as ready as the next person to grump about privacy issues where the government is concerned, the fact is that most of what went on in their towns was public knowledge – partly because of those post cards! Some of my most treasured are from my Dad when he traveled on business, and those sent between my grandmother grandfather while courting and newly married.

      I was so glad to see your new post. Where you’re concerned, I think absence did make our hearts grow fonder. You’re an important voice for a lot of people!


  3. A delightful history, Linda! I was just rummaging through an envelope of old stamps — it’s not a collection per se, but loose denominations that I used to need for Canada and international that are too small now for today’s postage rates. You’ve certainly got some pretty ones!

    I have some friends who’ve served as missionaries in the Solomon Islands for many years now. They always try to use island stamps in their communications and it’s like a mini adventure when their mailings arrive.

    1. nikkipolani,

      Rates certainly have gone up. While I enjoy using the old stamps, there’s not enough room on letters for the three and five-cent ones. On parcels and large envelopes it’s a different matter – and the postal clerks get a kick out of seeing them, too.

      When I was in Liberia, Dad always was eager for their new stamps. Liberia has developed quite a postage stamp business – issuing commemoratives and so on. Their stamps imprinted with flora and fauna were some of the most beautiful in the world. I don’t know how things are now, since the civil war, but I hope they’re back in the printing business.


  4. Hello Linda:

    I’m afraid we are living the last days of “snail mail” as it is often referred to. In my case, I haven’t sent a traditional letter at least in twenty years or maybe more. Also all my bills are currently paid using electronic banking.

    Sending an e-mail or paying a bill through my computer is so easy and convenient, I can not imagine going back in time and doing things differently, meaning the “old way”..

    Technology has taken over the financial system and large chunks of the postal system. This year we turned over to Correos Nacionales the key to our postal box office. We had it for thirty years to receive basically to receive monthly bills. All our friends communicate with us through our electronic address. I have an old Yahoo account for at least fifteen years. It works flawlessly, like the classical Swiss watch.

    Likewise, cable TV will also be devoured by Internet TV, paper books are being replaced with e-books and so on and so forth. The digital revolution is full steam ahead. The tablets are adding gasoline to the fire.

    I enjoyed the pictures of the U.S. postal stamps. Never seen them before. Thank you.



    1. Omar,

      Of all my blogging friends, I think you’re the most enthusiastic about all things electronic. And there’s not a thing wrong with that. If I ever decide to take the plunge into gadgetry, I know who to turn to for advice!

      We’re of the same generation, so that doesn’t account for the differences in our attitudes. And you appreciate tradition as much as I’m open to new ways, so that isn’t it. I suppose in the end it’s just preference. I opened a new book this weekend and nearly died with delight – good paper, nice font, extra wide margins for note-taking. Can you see me smile?

      Actually, I’ve made a turn back to more traditional note-sending and letter-writing, too. Somehow I feel like email’s for communicating information, but letters are for building and maintaining relationships. That might not be true at all, but it’s how I feel.

      Anyway, as long as snail mail’s around, I’ll make use of it. After that? Maybe I’ll go back to sticking messages in a tree! ;-)


  5. I must admit, though I love gmail and the internet and all of the changes technology has wrought, I thoroughly enjoy writing letters to my aged aunt (in her late eighties) who doesn’t own a computer. At the same time, I don’t want to follow her ways, and hope to keep up with all the technological changes when I’m her age. Interesting post!

    1. Monica,

      I have an 87 year old aunt who had a computer for a few years because her kids thought she needed to get with the program. Finally, it went the way of all well-meant ideas, which is to say, out the door. Now, I call her on the phone or send letters. She likes the pretty stationary, and seeing my handwriting, just as my mother did.

      I do think handwriting is an extension of us as persons in a way that email never can be. That alone is worth the effort of getting out the pen, paper and stamps now and then.

      But as you suggest – the beauty of it all is that we have a choice. It doesn’t have to be either/or, and for that we both/and sorts are grateful.


  6. We have a stamp collection as well and like to stay updated on what the post office has to offer. I have kept most of my postcards received as a child and have always loved snail mail… (:

    1. Roberta,

      It’s really amazing how much history can be found in a shoebox filled with postcards. And the cards themselves can be gorgeous. Embossed, flocked, adorned with fancy text – they’re another example of “useful bits of beauty”.

      One of our great rituals was going to the post office for Christmas stamps, but almost every time we went, we’d ask if there was something new. Dad wasn’t so casual. His collecting involved clubs, magazines, auctions, shows and a lot of trading with other collectors. Mom and I decided we didn’t need to keep hundreds of pounds of albums, but I do still have his magnifying glass, stamp tongs and so on. Well, and enough stamps to keep me for the rest of my natural life.

      I’m glad to find another snail mail lover!


  7. In the area of life you so vividly discuss in this post, as in most areas of life, we lose a little something for every little something we gain. I am as reliant as anyone on email and other electronic forms of communication for both business and personal correspondence. And yet, I cherish the memory of Andy, our mailman, who came twice a day — at 11 am and 4 pm — brought the mail into our grocery store, and sang “happy birthday” when a few envelopes in his bag tipped him off that someone in our house was celebrating.

    When we moved to Annandale, N.J., more than 40 years ago, we had the option of having an Annandale address and picking up our mail at the post office or having a Clinton address and having our mail delivered. We chose to go to the post office. Convenience comes in more than one form. Once, a friend of our oldest daughter sent a card dressed only to “Tammy, Annandale, N.J.” When we stopped in at the post office one day, the clerk said, “You’re Tammy, aren’t you?” And, indeed, she was.

    1. Charles,

      I suppose the memories you’ve shared are almost inconceivable to some people. And it was a two-way street. Postal employees also gained a good bit of satisfaction from their relationships with their customers. I still continue my parents’ tradition of giving a Christmas card with a little gift to my carrier, and there’s nothing more fun than taking a big box of Christmas cookies down to the post office. On the other hand, when my mother died, my carrier noticed the change in the mail immediately, and inquired. It wasn’t long before I found a sympathy card from him in my box.

      Tammy’s story reminds me of something else from the days of “de-liver de-letter, de-sooner, de-better”. One year, not long after I’d been to camp, I received a letter from a new friend, addressed only to “Linda Lee, Newton, Iowa, United States, The World, The Universe”. How it got to me I can’t say, but it wasn’t because of an electronic scanner.


  8. The old post office in Iowa reminded me of the one in my nearby home town in IL as a kid. Sciota had 125 residents. The PO building was the heart beat of town.

    In July, we went to Lake Geneva, WI. While riding on a tour boat, we were told they still use a mail delivery boat. It visits over 50 homes around the lake. They slow down, a person jumps off the front onto the pier, exchanges the mail, then jumps back onto the back at the stern.

    Those are nice stamps. I think that is an interesting hobby. There are so many different ones. I like the Cherokee Strip one. Our son is in the AForce at Enid, once part of the land rush of the Strip. My grand father may have gone to OK as a young man because of the Strip. He got married and started his family there in the middle of the Strip territory. That is an interesting connection between the two.

    Nice post this evening.

    1. Jim,

      You’ve sidled up against one of the passionate arguments of our day – the closing of small town post offices. In purely economic terms, shuttering some of those PO’s makes a certain sense. In terms of what it does to the community (and by community, I mean not just the town, but all of the outlying farms and ranches) it’s entirely different.

      Personally, I do my mailing in tiny, low-volume post offices whenever possible. Every letter that goes through their system is an argument for keeping them open – if we could get everyone to do that, we’d be taking one concrete step toward the preservation of rural America. Quixotic, I suppose, but…

      I know I have some Coast Guard and Navy stamps. I’ll have to see if there are some Air Force. If I find any, I’ll let you know. Most of the space and astronomy stamps are gone now, to people with connections to the industry, but I’ll see if I have some of those, too. Going through stamps is a perfect occupation for a cold, rainy day. We might have one of those again!


      1. I have lots of clear memories of our letter carrier, Kenny Thompson, coming down the road to deliver our mail. Now and then, he would have to pull into the driveway, get out, and hand a package-too-big to Mom. She even got boxes of baby chicks. That isn’t likely today.

        The son of that carrier ended up one of my best friends in high school.

  9. Thanks for a thorough history of the U.S. postal service, Linda. I still use snail mail, albeit I don’t hand write letters any more. Canadian stamps, esp. the collectors editions, are an art in themselves. I’ll never lose my fondness of stamps (have a collection still).

    Coincidentally, I received a post card just about a month ago, from a young person traveling in Asia, albeit the card didn’t reach us until maybe six weeks after she mailed it. Snail mail indeed. Anyway, I think the postal service has to innovate if they are to survive. The Canadian postal service has focused more on their parcel deliveries now, sharpening their edge to compete with UPS, FedEx, etc. But I worry about their ‘old fashioned’ mail service. How long can they last? Just like the newspaper, would they face ‘extinction’ in a future society?

    1. Arti,

      I don’t do much hand-writing any more, either. Grocery lists, scribbled blog ideas, outlines for pieces and greeting cards are about it. I hand-write post cards, but if I’m sending a lengthy letter I’ll compose it on the computer, print it out and then send it in a card with a hand-written note. Part of the reason now is physical. After writing for a while, my hands begin cramping, or just tire. I’ve had friends suggest it could be arthritis, but surely not. That’s an affliction of old people!

      Our postal service is doing some of the same things. They provide more services, such as boxes and other shipping supplies, and a good tracking service. They have something called the “forever” stamp, too. You buy it now, and it’s good no matter how many price increases come along. The only problem I can see with it is that it prevents that magic moment at the counter, looking at the new offerings and deciding that, this time, it’s going to be garden flowers, or a new statehood stamp.

      Oh! I just went looking, and discovered that I know the photographer who provided the photo for the Louisiana stamp – C.C. Lockwood. I recognized his work while I was browsing. I guess I’m going to have to have some of those stamps!


  10. You’ve reminded me here, Linda, about how I ended up throwing away quite a few aerogrammes some years ago, when I finally admitted to myself that I would never use them. Nobody else wanted them, either.

    The selections from your father’s stamp collection are really beautiful — and how nice to see the one with the camera. I had a some quite old British stamps in my collection at around the age of 10, and I’m wondering now what ever happened to them.

    And that leads me on to post offices. Some years ago, the interior of Sydney’s General Post Office in the heart of the city, was turned into a modern hotel. And also, the post office system changed from being simple utilitarian affairs to ones that sell everything from souvenir photo books of Australia, to small computer accessories, and many other items, along with the usual postal services.

    Over here in Santiago, the post offices are small and modern looking, but they have stuck to providing just the basic services. And now I’m thinking if there are actually any roadside post boxes for sending letters. Of course, the reason I don’t know is because I have no need to look for them…

    1. Andrew,

      I’d forgotten those aerogrammes! Ours were light blue, apparently fragile, folded in on themselves and licked on three sides. What a memory. And I might as well confess it – I rather miss stamps that can be licked, instead of the self-adhesive sort. There always was a little dish of water with a sponge in it to swipe the stamps across if you were involved with a mass mailing or Christmas cards.

      I had so many stamps to choose from for this post – I’m glad you like the one with the cameras. I chose it just for you and the other photographers who stop by.

      Our roadside post boxes nearly have disappeared. I can think of two – one in a bank parking lot and one near a marina – but they make do now mostly with outside boxes at the post offices. I’m sure that’s another cost cutting measure, as it reduces the need for personnel to drive around and collect the mail. Most people I know had stopped using that kind of box anyway, because of the possibility of theft. Whether the fear was reasonable, I can’t say – but there’s no question identity theft has made people more cautious.


  11. As with many things in the last half century, I have to wonder if what we have gained has been worth as much as what we have lost. In many cases the speed of electronic messages is useful, but it too leads to a kind of excess, another hard push toward a completely frenzied existence. As the old tongue-in-cheek saying goes, “We only live once, so let’s get it over with.”

    1. montucky,

      Speaking of frenzied, I recently heard a report on NPR about sleep deprivation and difficulties. They were talking about the tendency of people to actually go to bed with their phones next to them. Apparently all the little sounds, the glow of the screen and so on aren’t exactly conducive to easy sleep. They interviewed a fellow who confessed to checking his texts and emails several times during the night. No wonder people are so grumpy!

      I love that little saying. I’d not heard it before, but it reminds me of one that sometimes popped up in my family – “Not only was the food terrible, the portions were too small.”


  12. Many a time Mother has asked upon returning from a trip, “Did you get my postcard?” Many times we have laughed and answered “No, not yet.” But they come and I have saved many over the years.

    On Mondays I send GS a postcard selected from a collection I have gathered while traveling around. I like that I can hand write a short message, that he hears from me in this fashion so he may delight in getting mail during his week, and he can imagine about the places depicted on the card.

    When I visited my aunt and uncle in Mexico, they used to pull out a card table on Sunday afternoons to sort and remove interesting stamps from envelopes. At first, I couldn’t believe I was spending an afternoon doing that, but it was interesting and there was much conversation over the stamp collecting. At home, my dad was very careful as to how he soaked those envelopes to carefully remove his gems.

    I remember getting mail from Spain during the Franco years. Nothing interesting there, only Franco’s likeness in various colors. Certainly, nothing as imaginative, beautiful or interesting as your fine ones.

    One thing you may find interesting. While studying in Paris back in the early 70’s, mail was delivered 3 times a day to the foyer where I lived. To this day, I’m in awe of that. Usually, when I observe and experience something like that, it’s corroborated in my reading with similar stories. However, I have heard no comment from others on this. In fact, when I mentioned it to my friend who sent me pictures for my Bastille Day post, she said she had no recollection of that. No, I didn’t dream it as I vividly remember looking forward to checking my box throughout the day to hear from family and one special boyfriend back in the day. In fact, I wrote about this in a post “Vous avez des postes aujourd’hui.” Perhaps because it was a large residence the nuns took to receiving one bag of postes and placed them in our box throughout the day. Still, I loved checking, a precursor to checking our e-mail umpteen times a day perhaps. Loved this post.

    1. Georgette,

      I do like the thought of your postcard “routine” for your GS. There’s nothing ordinary or routine about it at all. You’re creating a tradition that may reach down into generations yet to come.

      I certainly remember all the little rituals of stamp collecting. There was the soaking, of course, and the careful application of those hinges. (There’s a question to ponder: have you ever known an unhinged stamp collector?)

      Dad actually favored albums with slots for the stamps. Oh, my – they were huge. He collected European stamps as well as American, and two long shelves in the den were filled with albums. What I have now are two albums of full sheets – well, except for those I’ve torn apart to use.

      The most interesting item in his collection – at least to me – was a sheet of Latvian map stamps – stamps that were printed on WWI German maps. I have one sheet of those, framed with double glass so both sides can be seen.

      Interesting that you should mention multiple deliveries. In a comment above, Charlespaolino mentioned that the postman came twice daily to their grocery store. And I remember hearing of “morning mail” and “afternoon mail”, though I can’t place the phrases. I don’t know if they’re from childhood, or some employment, or even summer camp.

      Perhaps their other responsibilities kept the sisters from putting out the mail just once a day. Or perhaps they knew they were creating anticipation and pleasure for you with their system!


  13. My wife and I just came back from a two-week trip to Japan, and the collection of printed pieces I returned with was nearly enough to force us into the realm of checked-baggage: wonderfully-illustrated flyers, brochures, and tickets of admission. I’ve been busy cutting many of them apart and transforming them into laminated bookmarks. Their artwork reminds me of the postage stamps you’ve written about in this post, and I find myself wondering if the extravagance of such visual beauty will soon be a thing of the past. As for the resulting bookmarks, now I have to find people who still read books. And then, it’s a trip to the post office.

    1. Charles,

      What a wonderful trip you surely had. And what a creative way to use those souvenirs. I have a feeling you’re not going to have any trouble at all finding plenty of book-readers to share your treasure with.

      Both your collection and my dad’s are reminders that art doesn’t have to be segregated from life, set apart in museums or galleries and meant only for the knowledgeable to wealthy. The urge to create and enjoy beauty is human, and it’s always a delight to find it in new and unexpected places.

      I hope there’s at least a chance you’ll share some of your bounty with us through your blog. I can’t remember you ever using photos rather than illustrations, but I have a feeling you’re more than capable – and heaven knows what kind of tales you could tell about that kind of trip!


  14. As I read this post I am reminded of a snail mail package that arrived in my box one day filled with postage stamps from your father’s collection. You told me I could use them for post but I can’t! I’m waiting for the ideal project and am hoping retirement brings that project to my mind!

    I, too, am one of the people who say “What do you have?” when it comes to stamps and I especially going to my up north post office, which is bigger than it used to be. It’s so easy to do it there. Here I go to our substation, which is drive through — it’s easy, but the line is just as long. Still, it’s close. Close enough to walk, but no walk-ups allowed “for your personal safety.”

    I love getting mail. Real mail. I like my carrier, Robin, who “knows” me — probably more than I think she does, if indeed she is as observant about my mail as she could be! And, it reminds me of something else…

    All those letters written by the famous (or our parents) to the other when they were far away provide an immediate, hands-on connection to the past. And for the famous, to history. Imagine the letters of Churchill to Clemmie (or Ronnie and Nancy’s, for that matter) had they been email. For the unknown, they would be read, possibly printed out, but possibly deleted after a suitable time. The computer crashes. The hard drive wipes. The email is even more ephemeral than ephemera. No, I think we owe it to ourselves, our descendants and for some, to history to continue to write — and post.

    1. jeanie,

      Your mention of “stamp projects” reminded me of the great popularity of postage stamp découpage during the sixties. Mom covered a wooden box for dad’s various stamp collecting tools. He used it for his spare change. As he said, “Why would I put something I use every day in a box?” So reasonable.

      A post office you can’t walk up to? I’ve never seen a drive-through. Maybe they’re more common in big cities where parking is at a premium. It’s a puzzlement to me. Who doesn’t have time to park and go into a post office?

      Letter carriers who stay on a route certainly do know a good bit about us. When I lived inside Houston proper, an elderly woman who lived alone and had fallen was unable to get to the phone. She was checked on and helped because of her carrier. She walked down to get her mail EVERY day, and on day two, when the mail still was in her box, the carrier mentioned it to the office. Small town in the big city.

      And I agree completely with you about the importance of real letters sent among real people. I have a small clutch of letters written in the 1880s by a woman who was a friend of my great-great-grandmother – both the handwritten originals and the transcripts. I’m working on transcribing some other things myself. Ink lasts a good long time, but post cards and letters written in pencil? Not so much! When they start to fade, they fade fast – I just realized I need to get busy if I’m going to preserve those messages.


      1. I love the story of the stamp box! And yes — letter carriers can be a blessing. When Rick had his MRSA, I think (or maybe he was just away for a bit), our carrier Robin was very concerned. I can’t remember what she did — leave a note? Check with the duplex renters — that might have been it. That was before she knew he and I were connected and if she had, I’m sure there would have been a note in my box — is he OK?

        Our drive-throughs (I’m not sure how many) are situated around town, as the main post office is kind of off the beaten path, pretty far out for some folks. And they are open a little later — till 6 — so if you need to post something or get stamps, it’s easier. But at the lake, well, I just love to go!

        Happy trails and traveling!

        1. You just solved a mystery for me. There’s been a story in the news about some pro football team (don’t ask me which one) that has had multiple cases of MRSA. I knew I’d come across the term, but I didn’t know where. Now I remember.

          Isn’t it wonderful that mail carriers still are concerned for us? They’re part of that fabric of society that’s so important. I’m so glad both you and Rick are feeling better now – you’ve had a rough patch, for sure.

  15. What a great post again! I have miserable handwriting, so e-mail has been a blessing, but my husband loves to write letters. He can be seen sitting at his desk scribbling away at least once a day. And I understand that at least one grandson saves every one!

    The stamp collection is marvelous, and what a good thing it has been saved. Stamps are works of art, and it’s too bad they aren’t using art on them now. I have a collection of postcards people have sent through the years, as well as a book with postcards my grandmother received as a girl.

    1. kayti,

      i have good handwriting, thanks to my Palmer Method teachers in school, but I tire easily now. No hand-written manuscripts for me! But I love that your husband writes letters – especially to the young ones. My own dad was very good about sending postcards when he traveled on business. I still have a few, filled with interesting little details of his travels and admonitions to “be a good girl and help Mother”.

      Your comment about art startled me into remembering the work of Molly Rausch. She paints tiny little works based on actual stamps. You can find her site here. The paintings are just exquisite, and she has quite an extensive gallery on her site.

      I need to do a kind of p.s. to this post and share her work. I found it some time ago – it’s what got me started thinking about a post focused on postage stamps, but as you see, it went in a different direction.


      1. Isn’t it interesting how often even in life, we begin in one direction, but end in another? It’s called pentimento in art, as when a painting is covered with another totally different. One gets a better idea, or the first choice was not a good one. We sometimes do this in human relationships as well.

  16. My dad and brother collected stamps together when my brother was growing up. Because my brother had asthma and was allergic to dust and pollen, he could not play sports, so it was good that they had at least one activity they could do together.

    I pay bills on line, and do most of my correspondence by email. For the things I sell on Amazon, I use their postage printing service where you buy the postage from them, and then print it out. The only thing I use stamps for is to mail my rent check, which I ought to do today now that I’m thinking about it.

    Back when the area where I live was bald prairie where the buffalo roamed, a fellow named Singer opened a store in Yellow House Canyon. He also had a post office there, a fact that is commemorated in the name of the post office where I buy the few stamps I need, “Singer Station.” See more here.

    1. WOL,

      I was greatly cheered a few years ago to discover a local Cub Scout troop that had a few stamp collectors. One of the boys’ fathers was pretty deeply involved in the hobby, and he worked with the troop as an advisor.

      Having parents who collect can be a wonderful thing. Growing up, I never shared my dad’s passion for stamps and coins or my mother’s for dishes and pottery (that came later). But I did go with them to farm sales galore, and while they were looking for postcards or saucers, I bought boxes of dusty old books and brought them home.

      When I was selling on eBay, I lugged my stuff to the post office instead of weighing and printing at home. That’s part of the reason I got to be such good friends with the clerks – and with the husband and wife who make ukeleles. They send them all over the world, and come almost every day to send off more packages. Apparently, he had been making ukeleles for several years when his wife put her foot down and said “Get those things out of this house!”
      That’s when they started selling.

      i enjoyed reading about Singer Station, and likewise Yellow House Canyon. That was new to me, though of course the Llano Estacado and its winery’s familiar.


    2. WOL, you’re not going to believe this, but “Yellow House Canyon” is trending on Twitter just now. I had to go look – I was pretty sure it wasn’t from my blog. Apparently, this YHC are two girls who sing, and they’re on some tv program. Folks are trying to figure out their name. Of course they’re from Lubbock, and they’re not bad.

      Yesterday, Yellow House Canyon was new to me. Today, I’m watching them on youtube. What a world!

  17. I had an advantage in Liberia, Linda. The Peace Corps driver, Wellington Sirleaf, delivered mail once a week.

    Both our kids and grandkids (with mom’s help and encouragement) regularly send us notes. That’s a treat. I confess I no longer write letters, however. Cards are about it.

    The rest is by phone, email and Facebook. Facebook has been particularly powerful in maintaining contact with nieces, nephews, and others we might not normally be in contact with. Then there is texting, which has become a primary means of communication between Peggy and our kids. Four texts have arrived from our daughter today. She’s at Disney World in Florida. She’s waiting in line at Space Mountain as I type.

    And I can’t ignore blogs. Each of yours is like receiving a wonderfully long letter from a friend.

    An interesting story I remember from growing up: I was friends with the postmaster in my small town of Diamond Springs. He registered Democrat and his wife registered Republican. The reason? Every time the presidency changed parties there would be a complete turn over in Postmasters from one party to the other. This way my friends kept the job in their family.


    1. Curt,

      What a deal – your own delivery! Were there volunteers farther up-country? We’d make it up to ZorZor or Voinjama from time to time, but I don’t remember any Peace Corps there. What I do remember is the Lofa Road in the rainy season.. Any postal carrier would need hazard pay for that route.

      I suppose part of the reason I’ve not taken up texting and such is that my work doesn’t require it, and I don’t have kids or grandkids to pull me into the modern age. I know several people who don’t make use of computers or email, and a couple of my best friends don’t even have a computer. They think I’m quite the geek. Little do they know…

      That’s a wonderful story about the postmaster family. I wonder if such an arrangement could survive today? I suspect not. Too much bureaucracy, too many regulations. On the other hand, it was an elegant solution. I’ve seen rules bent in some very creative ways to get a job done, and as long as people are happy and the job does get done, what’s not to like?

      I like you feeling as though my blog posts are letters from a friend. It’s the modern version of pen-pals, perhaps.


      1. Have you read Fletcher Kneble’s book the ZinZin Road about the Peace Corps in Liberia circa 1963, Linda. Anyway, ZinZin stood for ZorZor. There were volunteers scattered all over the country. -Curt

  18. When I lived in Zambia going to the post office (and the bank) was an adventure in patience. I think it usually took about 2 weeks for letters to reach me (or for my letters to reach the U.S.). So I mostly have nothing to complain about regarding our postal system. I hear tales of woe from the UK too. I say we have it good!

    1. The Bug,

      Oh, the bank! In Liberia, that also took a bit of getting used to. Every transaction required a different line. If you were cashing a check and making a deposit – two lines for you! And if you wanted to cash a check, get cash back AND make a deposit, three lines were required.

      You’re right – we have it very good, indeed. I think I’ve even seen people at the post office getting cash back when they use a debit card – wouldn’t we have given something to combine banking and postal business like that?


  19. Hi, Linda,

    Thanks for this. I recently got a smart phone and my daughters are teaching me how to text. Of course, I have emailed for years, but I must admit that I enjoy texting for certain things. Further to this, they have introduced me to Snapchat, which sends along a photo to your friend that lasts on their screen for all of 10 seconds before disappearing automatically. This seems to be about as far removed from snail mail as I can imagine, and yet I have to say that I really enjoy all of these modes of inter-action. Each has a particular utility, and taken together I think they can improve our experience of communication. And for that reason alone, I am a fan of snail mail as well.


    1. Allen,

      Snapchat? Really? I wondered if what I’d heard about it was right, so I went looking and found that yes, it does have a certain reputation. The guys who developed it did so after being – uh – introduced to Anthony Weiner and his proclivities. They thought it would be cool to have an app that would let you send photos of whatever, and then have them disappear.

      One note to your girls from the attached article. There are ways to save Snapchat posts and identify chatters. I don’t think for a minute they’d need to worry about that, but they might pass the word on to their friends. ;)

      I do agree that having a multitude of ways to communicate is wonderful, and the introduction of new technologies can be magical. After all, I still remember getting our telephone. It was a black desk model that had no dial. You picked up the receiver, and the operator would nicely ask, “Number, please?” Sometimes, if you were trying to call someone and they were staying on the phone for an extended time, the operator would break in and tell them you were trying to call. It was call waiting, only far more personal!


      1. Oh my! My naivete is exposed (so to speak) once again. Well, my daughter sent me a video of her playing the piano this am and I returned a shot of a street awash in fog… so I will hope for the best.

        When I was a kid our phone was on a party line. Many farmers shared the same line. Every house had a different ring pattern, and so you knew who was on the phone and for how long… and if you were really curious you could also know what they were talking about, since picking up the phone and listening in on conversations was not unheard of!


        1. As I like to say, one tool, many uses. You can build a house with a hammer or hit someone over the head with it. I’m sure your girls will be responsible users – just a hunch.

          When I moved to rural south Texas, I was astonished to find that the gas station, church and post office all shared a party line. My goodness – not many deeply personal phone calls there!

  20. They recently closed a historic post office in our town. But we love our other post office and our mail lady. She brings us our Netflix movies and picks up our outgoing mail and tosses dog biscuits over the fence. Nobody gets mad standing in line at our post office, we start talking to each other. I love seeing what new stamps are out, my current favorites are the American muscle cars of the ’60s.

    I’ve never had a problem with sending or receiving mail. I think it’s pretty amazing that a letter can go across country in a couple days. I adore real letters–it’s like holding a bit of that person in your hand. I love making creative envelopes with typography or artwork or stickers or just plain pretty handwriting–and people love to get them!

    And doesn’t it make your day to see that square creamy pastel envelope in the your mailbox that you know contains a card?

    1. Find an Outlet,

      I’d stand in line at the post office and chat with you any day – it sounds like you enjoy it as much as I do. And clearly you’ve got a good mail lady. Dog treats? Give that woman a star.

      What amazes me most about our postal system is that it worked so well even in the 1800s, when getting a letter from here to there was a completely different sort of undertaking. Reading about the development of the mail routes, the safety precautions needed for the stage coaches and mail wagons and so on is just fascinating.

      I had forgotten something that was a part of my childhood, too – the mail train. I don’t think there are mail cars any more, but for a while, they even sorted the mail on the trains.

      And yes – beautiful cards of any sort, and especially the hand-crafted or decorated, are wonderful. I had an older friend who would send her Christmas cards with the address done in beautiful calligraphy and red ink. There were swirls and whorls you couldn’t believe. She sent one to my mom one year, and Mom made me frame it immediately, so it wouldn’t be damaged in any way. Such things also are “little bits of beauty”.


  21. Ah, stamp collecting! I regret a bit that I never took it up. My mate had a fine collection when young, sadly water-damaged in storage long ago. I loved looking at those stamps, from all over the world (like your tiles). Always interesting to see the preoccupations, stamp wise, of different nations, and small countries often had the best of all, a source of revenue, I think.

    Now as for the post office, I’m partial to it, too, at least in theory. In fact, though, I dread going in and possibly getting pinned to the floor while our PO lady (whom I do know by name) goes on a tirade about the thoughtless customer who came in before me. One time, ten minutes passed before I could safely back out the door (she remembers, and she holds a grudge.)

    We had a little taste of Liberia here just today. A bill I’d sent out payment on mid-September hadn’t shown up as cashed, so I called the very local yard-helper to see what was up. No check had arrived as yet. The PO must have overheard us, because the check came in today’s mail, postmarked 9/20!

    1. Sue,

      Stamp collections can be fragile, that’s for sure. When Mom moved to Texas, she had the bulk of Dad’s collection with her and it wasn’t long before we realized that careful storage was going to have to be a priority. Humidity is no friend of stamps.

      And you’re exactly right about stamps as a source of revenue. Some of the loveliest come from Africa. Liberia got into the business a little later than some, but post-colonial West Africa always has had beauties. I’ve always liked those from Liechtenstein, too. Such variety.

      I had to smile at your account of your PO lady. We talk about having to deal with them, but of course they have to deal with us, too – and some of us can be a touch difficult. What’s doubly fun at our post office is the occasional spat between employees. It can go public pretty quickly, with rolled eyes, shaking heads and mumbling-under-the-breath, all to the great amusement of customers.

      One of the changes I’ve loved is electronic tracking. I think it’s wonderful fun to see a parcel makes its way to here and there, and it also helps to explain why some things can take a while. I once watched a package meant for a town about an hour north of me go from my local post office to Houston, to Dallas, to Houston, and only then to the small town. I don’t think it was supposed to happen that way, but of course, I can’t be sure.


  22. Excellent story, Linda!! :D

    One of my favorite things is to receive mail — sadly, I do not write letters or send cards as I once did, but when I do … I love the satisfaction! Remembering that today — I sat down and wrote a note to a friend for her birthday … I find email can do much, but not take the place of holding a letter or card in my hand … feel the same about books and nooks. I do not agree with paying bills online either!!

    Living in a small town — I enjoy personal interactions with Post Office staff.

    1. becca,

      I just sat down and sent a card last night, myself. I agree with you about the “feel” of mail in the hand, as well as real books instead of an electronic reader. I’m happy for people who so clearly enjoy their e-readers, but I’ver never felt the need. I enjoy going to the library as much as I enjoy going to the post office!

      By the way… in the midst of all this I came across the Louisiana statehood stamp . I’ll bet you know the photographer – it’s one by C.C. Lockwood. It’s a beauty, and it’s still available. I think I’m going to have to have a few.


  23. Linda,
    I’ve always marveled at how we found ways to get messages to folks before the existence of more modern methods of transportation, but I never imagined the oak tree mailbox. People have always and will always find a way to stay in touch. When email falters, we can always fall back on smoke signals.

    1. Bella Rum,

      You think the oak tree’s good – take a look at Eremophila’s comment just below. She has a link to a tree in her neighborhood where they used to hang the mailbag on a tree limb when it was ready to be picked up.

      “Smoke signals” reminded me of a single line from Annie Dillard’s “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek”, and thanks to Google books I could find it. She reports that, “In the time of Lewis and Clark, setting the prairies on fire was a well-known signal that meant, ‘Come down to the water’.” i can imagine that would get the message across!


  24. Linda, I really enjoyed reading about the postal service and seeing your stamp collection. Those stamps are a real treasure, especially since they once belonged to your dad. I collected a few stamps here and there and eventually gave the ones I had to a doctor from Taiwan who was one of the psych MDs on my unit. None were very unusual. I like the ones that are from foreign countries and have a handful of those.


    1. Yvonne,

      I began learning geography from my dad’s stamps. I’d look at the pretty things and ask, “Where’s that country? Where’s this one?” It wasn’t long before he found a globe and put it in a table next to his desk. Then, when I got curious about the location of Egypt or Argentina or wherever, we’d find it on the globe.

      Of course, many of the countries that were around then are gone, and new ones have been formed, or new names given. Today, I’d need a new globe!

      Nice of you to share your collection with the doctor. That’s one thing about stamps. In all my years, I’ve never heard of anyone just throwing them out. Even the most disinterested person will give them to someone else or sell them. That’s nice.


  25. Oh Linda, how accustomed are people to the instant gratification!

    For many years I lived 100 miles away from the Post Office, and mail was collected only once a fortnight, while on a trip to replenish groceries. Yet, because there was no telephone service at home either, letters were the ideal way to keep in touch. I believe that actually picking up a pen and writing on paper changes the way I think – it makes me slow down, if nothing else, and can then lead to more thoughtful writing.

    There was a ‘mail tree’ in my region also, before it was dealt a blow by the bushfires.

    I love how you brought dear William Morris into the conversation :-)

    1. eremophila,

      What you say about hand-writing slowing us down and allowing more thoughtfulness is precisely what I hear so many journal-writers say. I prefer the computer because I tend to revise as I go, but I’m always aware that being able to get more words down, faster, makes it even more important to engage in a little after-the-fact thoughtfulness. I believe it’s called “editing”.

      I’m so intrigued by your part of the world, and the mail tree story is wonderful. Both mail trees point to another sad reality – people don’t seem to be quite so honest today. Hang a bag of mail on a limb or put a handful of letters into a hollow tree and the identity thieves would be right there. They break into mailboxes, so what chance would a bag on a limb have?

      I’ll bring up William Morris every chance I can. A friend calls him her housekeeping guru. As she puts it, “Dust is neither useful nor beautiful”. Well, unless you want to leave a message for someone and don’t have paper and pen handy. ;)


  26. Message delivery reflects the era, I guess.

    Modern post offices in most big cities are a nightmare with rude sluggish clerks who delight in making things difficult. I’ve witnessed some serious bullying. Another rip in fabric of society.

    Small community post offices luckily still retain an atmosphere what life used to be – almost like the Starbucks of their era. As kids we loved going to the post office: wall of wooden box cubbies for mail, couldn’t wait to see the newest stamps, and pick up a bit of news.
    Even with home delivery, kids would wait for the mailman during the summer with glasses of lemonade. Messages now must be instant ( although they aren’t always delivered in a timely fashion by servers)

    I vote for charging bulk mail the same or higher rates as average letters – which would stop a bunch of that wasted clutter, and go ahead and deliver only during the week – we can live with that – especially with email/phones for immediate things.
    And how about encouraging people to snail mail for those you really like and formal messages/responses (like thank you notes) – written messages are so special now – and can be held in hands much longer.

    Great post

    1. phil,

      Like you, I get irritated by the arrival of the weekly “circulars”. On the other hand, my carrier tells me those advertising pieces are darned important to the post office’s bottom line. If you raise the rates, he says, it will decrease the number of mailed advertisements and negatively affect their bottom line. Who knows? I do wish there was a way to opt out of those mailings, though. It’s so senseless to receive something I never look at.

      We waited for the mailman, too. And yes – lemonade in summer, hot chocolate in winter, along with a chance to step out of the wind for a minute. In a very real sense, the mailman was as important to the community as the doctor and the fellow who owned the combination hardware/lumber/notions store. They held us together and helped us keep functioning, in a variety of ways.

      As for hand-written messages – perhaps they help to maintain civility, too. Anonymity and immediacy are wearing the fabric of society a little thin. As the fun saying has it, “Google before you tweet is today’s version of think before you speak”.

      Thanks for stopping by and evoking another memory or two.


  27. I’m old enough to recognize all the stamps you show here. Some 20+ years ago I discovered that at the periodic “book and paper” shows that passed through Austin, a few dealers had bunches of old unused stamps that they were willing to sell at face value. (If you’re wondering how they made any money doing that, the dealers would have gotten the stamps at a large discount through auctions and estate sales.) Although I’d had a computer by then for several years, it was still a time when I was accustomed to sending postcards and personal letters, so I used combinations of those old stamps (many of which were in small denominations like 3¢, 4¢, 5¢) to adorn my postcards and envelopes.

    I believe that recent U.S. stamps have declined in quality. The engraving isn’t as good, and the designs themselves often tend to be simplistic and cartoon-like. Give me the old intricacy any time. And if only I could have back the people I used to write to.

    1. Steve,

      That’s one reason I ended up with so many of Dad’s stamps, particularly blocks and full sheets. Some of his collection was valuable, and some was worth selling. But many dealers were perfectly up front about the value of what I have now, telling me I’d be better off using them for postage or craft projects because no dealer would pay no more than ten cents on the dollar of face value. Some might be worth selling online, but I haven’t the time or inclination to set up a stamp shop.

      You’re right about the quality of the stamps. The engraving isn’t as good, and the subject matter can be a bit celebrity-driven. As happens with your macro shots, a closer look reveals marvelous details, as in these stamps honoring the California gold rush, the merchant marine, John Muir, and the Kearney expedition to Santa Fe.

      And isn’t it true? We didn’t spend hours waiting for the mail because we liked the postman, and we didn’t spend hours at a desk because we wanted to practice penmanship. Keeping in touch with real people was the point. I’m so glad I still have some of their letters.


  28. Ridiculous though it is to me that quote made my morning: “Google before you tweet is today’s version of think before you speak”.

    I have yet to text or tweet or facebook but in Liberia we had what we called “Sat-C” through which we could send and receive faxes. There was no such thing as a working postal system beyond mail carried by hand to another country. At the time Monrovia was “another country”.
    The respect for the “Mail Tree” and the light sheet metal rural post box (and mail in general) has been eroded to nothing around here. Our locked mail boxes are routinely pried open and mail goes missing.

    What bothers me about the “flyers” we find filling the box even if it has been recently pried is:
    Someone in their wisdom has deemed that the paper used should be glossy and fire proof, glued or stapled at the seam and include numerous sizes of different grades of plastic coated non-information!

    1. Ken,

      If that gave you a smile, you might enjoy these vintage renderings of ads for social media services. I’m sure they aren’t as funny to the thirty-something crowd as they are to me – but any of us who grew up during that era can’t help but notice how perfectly they’ve captured the details.

      I don’t know which irritates me more – the people prying open the mailboxes, or the junk that fills them. There’s a large trash container near our mailboxes, and twice a week when the advertising circulars show up, that container fills up. I don’t so much read my mail any more as triage it, as do my neighbors. I suppose it’s much like telemarketing, in the sense that if one person in a hundred “bites”, it’s all worth it. But it drives me crazy.

      That glossy paper probably is useful for holding things together as the material goes through the postal system’s processing. But it’s still irritating. I have a friend who once rebelled by attaching every postage paid return card to something like a brick and returning it to the junk mail companies. I should give her a call and see if she’s still doing that, or how it turned out.


  29. Fascinating post, Linda, as always! I, too, am one of those who doesn’t mind (too much!) lining up at the local post office to buy stamps and send packages. Sure, some of that can be done online today (and might even be faster), but sometimes it’s nice to inject the human element.
    Early settlers, I suppose, were more amenable to waiting. Besides the fact that they had nothing to compare speeds with, the break from hard work must have been most welcome.
    Still, there’s certainly something to be said for our online world — its immediacy, in particular. Even if we’re burdened with overkill at times!

    1. Debbie,

      Not only is it nice to add the human element, but there’s an added advantage. If the post office calculates your postage for you, there’s no question about it at the other end. When I was doing a lot of ebay shipping, that was important. I didn’t want to be off by a dollar and have an angry customer who had to cough up more money to get their package. With letters, it’s a lot easier – but I still enjoy the process of “really mailing” something.

      It would be interesting to find some accounts of how pioneers and settlers viewed their mail. They certainly were letter writers – and wonderful ones, too. I’ve been told of a collection of letters from women on the frontier to family back home – haven’t had a chance to dip into it yet, but I suspect it’s going to be fascinating.

      Speaking of the immediacy of our modern forms of communication – I had to laugh at myself this morning. I don’t have a smart phone, but I can send and receive texts. I noticed this morning someone had sent a text – two days ago. Clearly, someone has to be paying attention for these new gizmos to work!


  30. What a delightful post that went straight to my heart ! I love snail mail even if I Do appreciate emails. Both seem different to me. When I choose a particular stationary for a special friend, and gather my thoughts to write, time slows down. Writing by hand takes more time – for me. I cannot explain why but my thoughts go deeper and writing becomes more personal. Maybe it is just my impression ?

    Since I travelled for many years, writing was a necessity to keep in touch with family and friends. It was a hobby in my teenage years to get to know people from other places. Correspondences. Finding a letter in my mail-box or choosing a special stamp to write to my parents and friends was important, enjoyable.

    The stamps I receive from your country are so various. At the moment there is a beautiful series named “Pinks, Cosmos, Primrose and Calendula”. The “Love” stamp is just gorgeous. And so are many others featuring men and women in your History, painters, actors, writers and more. I stick them here and there in my journal.

    Thank you, dear Linda, to share your thoughts and pictures of snail mail.

    1. Isa,

      I’ve heard many people speak of that sense of time slowing down when they write by hand. Sometimes, they speak of writing letters or cards. Sometime, the experience comes with journal writing. I think anything that slows us down these days is good.

      There’s no question that a card that arrives with a hand-written note is special. And yes – choosing stationary, choosing stamps, enclosing tiny gifts – all are parts of a ritual far deeper than just “exchanging information”.

      I know that series of stamps you mention. I have the same series in my desk drawer. They’re called “Vintage Seed Packets”. I chose them the last time I bought stamps because they remind me of my grandmother’s garden – especially the cosmos, asters, zinnias and phlox.

      When I was browsing some of the craft projects people have created with stamps, I saw the most beautiful collage of a traditional quilt pattern. I can’t find it now, but I’ll try another search and send you the link if I can find it. It was the most amazing joining of two arts.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. It’s these simple things in life that often are the loveliest – little grace notes, don’t you think?


  31. A fine tribute to a little appreciated service-mail. My father was a rural letter carrier for many years. Spent his life bringing people letters, packages, and wanted and unwanted junk mail. He spent many a winter day getting his truck unstuck so the mail could get delivered and many a summer day boiling in the cab of the old Dodge bringing people some of what they needed.

    Perhaps our present mail system has outlasted its usefulness. I still hate to see it get put in some dark corner like Aunt Beatice’s old garden gloves.

    There’s a lot to be said for life before it got so darned fast and crazy!

    1. WildBill,

      You’re the third person I’ve come across in the past few years who either has a connection to a mail carrier or who currently is a mail carrier. For some reason this tickles me. The respect and affection we used to have not only for the person who brought our mail but for the system as a whole seems to be disappearing. The ease with which post offices are pulled out of small communities is short-sighted, and if I could wave a magic wand and get the phrase “going postal” to disappear, I would.

      I don’t think our traditional mail system has outlived usefulness at all, any more than I think books have outlived theirs. There will come a day when the digital bubble bursts – and I don’t mean that in the stock market sense. Whether I’ll live to see it, I can’t say. But just as I keep flashlights and lanterns for those times when the electricity does go out, I intend to keep my books. I haven’t quite figured out the “mail” part yet, but I’ll keep pondering.


  32. I too love stamps -especially the ones with wild flowers on them ;-) Glad you feel the freedom to use some of your dad’s stamps. That tells me you’re not a hoarder ;-) That quote @ the end about not keeping anything in the house that is not useful or beautiful, that jumped off the page this morning. I’ve started the process of de-cluttering again this week after helping someone move their excess “stuff” into a moving truck.

    1. DM,

      You’re right that I’m not a hoarder, though I’ve gone through some serious “collecting” phases in my life. But generally, if the world is divided into keepers and throwers, I’m a thrower – although “throwing” can include giving to, passing on to, selling and so forth.

      I swear that everyone I know goes through de-cluttering again and again and again. Actually, I think the process is valuable even if nothing goes out the door. If everything is important, worth keeping because of its intrinsic value, appeal or memories – by definition none of it’s clutter. And after a few years of pondering, all those things that just are hanging about because they “might” be useful someday usually meet the proper fate – being sent out into the world to belong to someone who really can use them.


  33. Well, here I am; a day late and a dollar short. I’ve been by to read. I even remember thinking about what to say and thought I’d typed it in. I’ll try again.

    We still use snail mail. Hubby does not ‘compute,’ and sends out bill payments the old fashioned way. I’m the one that uses a computer and email. Still, there’s nothing like sending or receiving a hand written card or letter. It sure is nicer than all those bills, flyers and desperate pleas for donations.

    As you know, Dad collected stamps in his youth. It was a common hobby for boys in the 30’s and 40’s. He never collected sheets; he stuck to franked stamps. He continued saving anything that caught his eye on up until his death and would pass them to me, when I’d come up to visit.

    He would have enjoyed this entry.

    1. Gué,

      Shoot – you know there’s no “late” around this joint, and you’re never a dollar short. You’ve been a little “out of your routine” lately, don’t you think?

      I remembered that half your household doesn’t do the online bit. What Gus does when you’re not around is another matter, of course. Sometimes I think they understand more than we know, and more than we might want to know.

      I do remember that your dad was a collector. What I can’t remember is if I sent him the actual Fort Sumter stamps or just scanned them. I was thinking about him the other day. I just learned that another winery has established itself across the bay. I’m not sure if it’s a successor to Oak Island, but I surely would have liked to send him a bottle from the new place. That still has to be my favorite post-Ike story. Plucking bottles from the ditches is recovery at its finest. I’m glad the opportunity came along.

      Well, who knows? Maybe our dads are up there together, swapping stamp stories. If they are, I’m sure mine is saying, “I can’t believe she’s still interested in them.”


  34. Maybe they are, Linda.

    I’d like to think that they were up there together, swapping stamp stories. Other stories, too. I think they’d have liked each other.

    Perhaps your mom and mine are swapping crochet patterns, too!

  35. You always manage to make me think about things that I don’t usually think about, which is great!

    I absolutely love stamps, and while I don’t personally collect them, my mother did for a while and has a modest collection. From an early age I had a great love of postcards, which would appear in the mailbox from far-off places with beautiful, colorful, cultural, and historic stamps. Although I love stamps from the US, I am drawn to all things Elsewhere, so I especially covet stamps from overseas.

    Part of the fun for me of traveling is finding the gift shop, scooping up postcards as souvenirs, and using some for actually mailing. Then of course, buying stamps and finding the local post office. I guess I find the postal system as fascinating as you do; and I do miss the way folks used to write to each other by hand.
    Very lovely post, as usual.

    1. Office Diva,

      Of course you’d love foreign stamps – I suspect your connections with people and places in Europe and elsewhere make them far more meaningful than they would be for people who only admire them for their subjects, romance, mystery and so on.

      I’ve a bag filled with postcards. If only I had made some time to send a few along the way! That’s all right – there’s still time for sharing. As usual, I’ve had so many experiences and seen so much it willl take a little time to absorb it all. At least this trip I’ve managed to do a little culling of photos along the way. I managed not to laugh at the woman who was mentioning yesterday that she had really gone all out and taken fifty photos (50!) on her week’s trip. She may be a better photographer than I am, of course, or more selective. But I’m far nearer five hundred – the culling’s very important!


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