Post office puts a cancellation on a dear old family friend

Observations

July 24, 2005|By Amy Davis | Amy Davis,Sun Staff

The news about the U.S. Postal Service's plan to eliminate 120 "cost ineffective" mailboxes in Baltimore City and Baltimore County appeared, ironically, on Independence Day.

I missed reading it on the Fourth because I was wrapped up in my family's red, white and blue traditions of parade, picnic and fireworks, so I didn't learn the details of the Postal Service's latest self-defeating, cost-saving measure until the next day.

Sure enough, when I anxiously scanned the list of "mailboxes to be removed," there it was, 47th on the list: 6100 Ready Ave. Our trusty mailbox! (It's easy to feel proprietary about a mailbox situated just steps away from your home.)

Apparently, a Postal Service survey determined that ours and the other slacker boxes "received 25 or fewer pieces of mail a day for two weeks," the story by The Sun's Sumathi Reddy said. Must have been that brief interval when no bills were due or I wasn't mailing a birthday card to one of my 13 nieces or nephews.

In my heart, I knew I'd find our old blue clunker on this list of loser boxes, and not because of its cracked paint or the splash of graffiti that scars its right side. I often have to wait in line at the ATM, but during my 14 years in Baltimore's Evesham Park neighborhood, I never had to wait in line to drop a letter. Until, its removal this week, the box sat nestled against overgrown shrubs at the corner of East Lake Avenue, just off York Road. This is a road busy enough to merit speed humps, but apparently they didn't slow down drivers enough to take advantage of our handy box.

Why does this news sting? I think I feel a little like many MTA bus riders who recently were shocked to learn that their longtime bus routes -- for many, their lifelines -- might be eliminated because of light ridership. In effect, some hard-working folks stand to lose their jobs because they happen to work in a less-populated area. Do they deserve to be shunted aside and disconnected?

Likewise, should our small neighborhoods feel indifferent about losing the symbolic link to the outside that these mailboxes have represented for generations? Don't we all feel betrayed when our pact with essential government services is broken, especially when we are still paying our share of the tax burden, year after year?

Perhaps I should just move on. I could switch to e-mail greeting cards or pay my bills online. No more neighborly strolls past the honeysuckle and gurgling toddler next door on the way to the mailbox. Face the fact that the letters didn't get picked up from our mailbox until late in the afternoon, anyway.

I remember the times I tucked my correspondence in my bag at the start of the workday, in search of a mailbox or post office with an earlier pickup time. Invariably, I'd arrive home at the end of the day, my letters still unmailed. My corner box was there waiting.

Perhaps I'd feel differently about snail mail altogether if I hadn't exchanged old-fashioned love letters with my long-distance boyfriend for seven years before we ended up in the same city, got married and settled on leafy Ready Avenue. Maybe I wouldn't care if this particular mailbox didn't mark the growth of my children as much as the lilac we planted on my first Mother's Day.

When they were toddlers, we would hoist Julie and Paul up to the box's opening, where they'd drop the envelope down its mouth, and stare in wonder at the inky blue of its insides. Too soon they were big enough to stand on tiptoe and accomplish the mission themselves. We taught them the proper flick of the wrist to ensure that the envelope landed safely at the bottom of the box, and the extra jiggle of the handle, just to make sure. By her middle-school years, Julie loved to write to her friends, even those within walking distance, and to mail each thickly decorated envelope herself.

Now, as a teenager, she has moved on to e-mail. Creative correspondence is still coming out of our household, though, and mailed the old-fashioned way. Now I send greeting cards handmade by Paul, which he sells me for 75 cents each. He'll address and stamp the envelope (with stamps purchased by me, of course) for an additional 20 cents, and deliver it to me for another 5. A bargain, at a dollar. (Perhaps you'd like to order cards from Paul Co., too. But you have to promise to mail them from your corner box.)

Our kids love to hear stories of when we were kids, when not only ice-cream trucks, but also the Charles Chips man, the milk and egg man, and my favorite, the mellifluous knife grinder, faithfully came down our suburban streets in the oh-so-distant '60s.

These days, tiny Ready Avenue isn't any more cost-effective for the few remaining ice-cream trucks than it is for the post office. So our son and daughter will have to be content to tell their children about their old days, when there was a blue mailbox right on the corner.

Amy Davis is a photographer for The Sun.

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