HUCKABY: The sanctity of the Post Office

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds -- as long as those rounds are Monday through Friday. That may become the case if the recommendation now floating around Washington to cut mail delivery to five days a week comes to fruition.It seems the Post Office is in deep financial trouble. Who isn't?

Could it be that the World Wide Web is about to render the Post Office obsolete? Stranger things have happened. Folks used to hand-write letters and have them delivered by the post office. Now more and more people simply send electronic messages -- although I can testify that there are still a whole passel of people out there sending get-well cards through the United States Postal Service. The good folks from Newton Baptist Church sent me enough cards during my recent illness to keep the Post Office in the black for a year or two.

The World Wide Web isn't the only culprit threatening the survival of the institution that goes back to the days of Benjamin Franklin, who was named the first U.S. Postmaster by the Continental Congress in 1775. Shoot fire, y'all. We weren't even a nation until 1776. The Post Office is older than the country!

There is stiff competition out there from UPS and Fed Ex and a few other delivery services. Maybe the Post Office should make a movie about a mailman being stranded on a deserted island. UPS has been ripped off by the dude on King of Queens and Fed Ex has Tom Hanks and his volleyball named Wilson. What does the USPS have? They have Newman, the inefficient slob from Seinfeld, and the expression "going postal." It hardly seems like a fair fight.

Plus, folks are paying bills online and a larger and larger percentage of the mail being delivered to homes each day is of the junk variety, mailed at a bulk rate. For all of the above reasons -- and more -- the postal service is losing billions of dollars a year. Discontinuing Saturday service is only one proposal to keep the service solvent. The government is also contemplating closing many small rural post offices -- a move the National League of Post Offices strongly opposes.

Dang. Is nothing sacred? I can't imagine life without mail. The post office and I go way back.

One of the first chores my mama entrusted to me was going to get the mail. There was no house-to-house delivery in Porterdale, understand. We got our mail at the post office, which was right next to Rob Berry's barber shop. Our box was number 412, and I was so proud of myself when I learned how to manipulate the combination lock on the front of the brass box.

Before that I had to go to the window and ask for the mail. The Postmaster was Mr. Newt Hinton -- or was it "Knute?" -- and Mrs. Ruby Lee Cason was the clerk. They always had the mail sorted and in the boxes by nine every morning. Of course, back then the mail came in the afternoon, too, so some days I would walk to the Post Office twice to see if the mail had run.

None of the mail was ever for me, of course, unless it was my birthday or I had been sick. Then I could count on getting a card from Annie Lee Day, who sent cards to everybody in Porterdale for every occasion.

They weren't too picky about addresses in those days. If a letter or card had your name and Porterdale on it, that piece of mail would find its way to your box. "GA" was considered superfluous, because there was only one Porterdale in all the world. Once, in high school, I received a piece of mail addressed simply to Big D, Porterdale. Back then a first class stamp only cost a nickel. You could have a post card delivered anywhere in the US for 3 cents.

I'm pretty sure the demise of the Postal Service began when they made you start putting ZIP codes on your letters and raised the price of a stamp to six cents.

I felt really grown up when I moved away from home and had my own mailbox. Then I learned that when you have your own mailbox, teenagers might knock them over with their cars or crush them with baseball bats. I also learned that when you have your own mailbox, the letter carrier sticks bills in it every day.

Nonetheless, I have always looked forward to having the mail run and have been amazed that I can get letters and packages delivered right to my door from anywhere in the world. There was a time when I could set my watch by my letter carrier. She came between 11:05 and 11:10 every day. Now my mail usually comes before 3 -- but not always. Some days I don't get any mail at all and other days I get a couple of bundles of the stuff -- but, hey, what do you expect for 44 cents a pop?

At any rate, I hope the post office survives because despite all the bad publicity, they really do a great job -- and I know for a fact that all those checks really didn't get lost in the mail.

Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at dhuck08@bellsouth.net. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.