As I mentioned in the Vicar Visits, we had many chores to do around the mountain during their visit. Some of these were seasonal. Others were “I’m glad that I learned about that today, rather than finding out too late…”. Moving our mailbox was one of those tasks. I knew that our land association had planned to replace the culvert at the entrance to the roads. And, I knew that those of us who lived up here and had mailboxes had them placed over the old culvert. Thus, without little thought, I could conclude that when the old culvert came out so would the mailboxes. The day before the Vicar and his wife would arrive, I ran some errands. Along the way I ran into our neighbor who does excavation work. In our conversation he mentioned that he planned to start working on that culvert on Monday. This was Saturday. Sunday we would drive to the airport. I guess Monday, we would move the mailboxes. In addition to being very helpful in this labor, the Vicar had some interesting thoughts about the symbolism. I asked him to write a guest blog…
On a recent trip to the mountain to visit the Hermit and his wife, we made it clear that we would welcome a working vacation. While my wife and Mrs. Hermit picked vegetables, thinned flower beds and transplanted the surplus on other parts of the mountain, the Hermit and I engage in a matter of the utmost urgency, moving mailboxes.
You see, the culvert that runs under the main road to the mountain, where the pavement ends and the dirt begins, was scheduled to be replaced on Tuesday. Unfortunately five mailboxes had been mounted directly over the north end of the culvert and would be uprooted by the tractor if the were not moved. The Hermit had devised a relocation plan and was the lone person on the mountain available to make the move on Monday. In the morning we assembled the rest of the structure that would act as the new home for three of the mailboxes, loaded it into the truck and rambled down the mountain. While the Hermit began the work of dismantling the existing mailboxes, I set about digging holes for the new base. As I struggled to dislodge the medium sized flat rocks from the yellow clay soil I quickly worked up a sweat in the humid morning air. It was a good thing we were still in the shade because I think I would have melted away if I were in the direct sun. The Hermit worked away at a steady pace, always in motion. It reminds me of the Eveready Energizer Rabbit that “keeps going, and going, and going….”. The Hermit is built for a marathon. After the new base was firmly secured in place, the Hermit brought over the mailboxes to be mounted to the structure. While he labored to remove the last cantankerous post from the ground, I drilled holes and lined up edges. Once the bottom three boxes were in place for the lower road, we both tackled the remaining two boxes. With a couple of adjustments to our plan we finished up just short of lunch time, pleased with our accomplishment and several pounds lighter for our sweaty efforts.
As we chugged water from our sports bottles to re-hydrate, we admired our handy work. There was a lot of satisfaction in getting the job done in a timely fashion and solving a potential problem before it occurred. As I reveled in our accomplishments, I began to consider the subjective importance we may place on something like a mailbox versus the objective reality of that same mailbox.
For many years mailboxes were our primary means of sharing information with others and the world. Postcards, letters, billing statements, magazines, newspapers, and advertisements were directed to the mailbox via street address and zip code. Phone calls were expensive, televisions had a limited number of channels, computers were as big as houses and used exclusively by businesses and governments. Our mailboxes kept us in contact with the outside world. Over the last 15 years our means of communicating has gone through a radical transformation. E-mail, e-cards, Facebook, instant messaging, texting, and cell phones have relegated the personal letter (snail mail) to the fringes where it seems better suited for display in a museum than as a medium for interaction in the fast paced digital age. Fed Ex and UPS deliver more and more boxes to our front doors, while the post office places a little orange slip in the mailbox advising you to “come and get it”. In 2010 5.1 e-bills were sent out as banking moved online. Monthly and quarterly statements are now available online, and online bill pay allows bills to be paid without licking stamps, pealing address labels (provided by the US Olympic Committee along with a request for $$), or searching for sandals for the trek to the mailbox. The US Postal Service estimates the mail delivery may be cut to 3 days a week by 2025.
Think about what still comes in the mailbox on a regular basis. There are flyers from the local supermarkets, credit card offers from Capitol One, American Express, Citi Card and others. I can’t survive without the numerous deals for cell phones, cable TV, and lube oil and filter at the local car dealership. Lastly there are all of those organizations at the ready to save the world from disease, politicians, and diseased politicians, if only I’d send them $20.00.
The longer I stared at the mailboxes the more I realized that there isn’t a lot that I get on a regular basis from my mailbox that is of great value to me. The importance that is represented by a mailbox rises from my past association with valuable information, not my present experience, or future expectation. I began to feel like I was watching history pass by. I wondered if my children or even my future grandchildren would have any idea how important the mail once was to so many. Perhaps some day soon the USPS will be a footnote in a history book right next to the Pony Express; “neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds”. I also wondered if there were other areas in my life where I was moving metaphorical mailboxes because of my attachment to the past.
Thanks, Vicar, for a wonderful exploration into our society.