by Constance Daley
St. Simons Island, Ga.
February 2, 2011
THE LAST BLUE RIBBON
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- Just when you think you have everything in place, your world starts spinning again and everything goes off kilter.
It's not that I didn't see it coming. The $44.00 I saved by not using 100 stamps a month was the first clue.
Sending manuscripts out to agents and markets is costly and it's twice as much if they require a stamped, self-addressed envelope to return it. I'm ahead of the game, but, oh, I don't want the Postal Service to die.
For well over 200 years we could count on mail being delivered to every single residence in America, and although there were days when we had no mail - I say that dejectedly - the postman always passed by, shuffling the letters in his dried-out hands to see if he might have missed something.
The Post Office was always there. We could always count on it.
Historically, we learned of it almost in passing. I don't recall studying it in class. We would see it in the sidebar of Benjamin Franklin's many discoveries and accomplishments - usually ranked far below his invention of electricity with a key and a kite, or being publisher of the revered Poor Richard's Almanac. Today, schoolchildren go to the Post Office for a kindergarten field trip.
Over the years, news stories got our attention when the cost of stamps went up a penny or two. If it went up a quarter, it would still be a bargain when you consider that the birthday card I drop in the blue box at the corner will travel 3,000 miles from this coastal island in Georgia to its destination - a residence in Cardiff-by-the-Sea in California - all within 48 hours. The price is standard, whether my card 3,000 miles or to the house around the corner.
It's not the cost of stamps, the price of gas, the housing boom, or any obvious constraints that would impede delivery of mail to every address every day. To me, it is no longer as useful or needed as it once was. The business plan in play with the Post Office is no different from the United States Postal Service creed, its mission statement, inscribed on the James A. Farley Post Office in New York City in these near-immortal words. "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds."
It's been working well for a couple of centuries: Why change it? It reaches every residence and business every day. Its both a mantra and a mission statement.
I have seen these stalwart couriers, originally walking, carrying a heavy leather pouch bursting with mail, junk mail and otherwise. They trudged from one address to the next delivering mail and picked up the outgoing - often with no mail coming or going. They never skipped a home or business - it was in their job description.
Time and manpower could have been better put to use, I believe. Today's game plan has deliveries made from a specially designed mail truck to curbside mailboxes. That appears easier than trudging the sidewalks, but it requires the postman to scan a label inside the box to record the time he arrived. He or she may go suffer all the weather that would deter other delivery services, but he can't escape the eyes of a postal Inspector.
Even if the USPS business plan was designed to keep up with the times, it has become hopelessly outmoded. It was great while it lasted, and for a population that knew nothing else. To me, it functioned like a well-oiled machine. Its performance was seamless and always had been.
Yet, as with many others in my generation, I no longer need it. Just as seamlessly, I have learned to function in this electronic age. Where I once opened my letters next to the waste basket, dropping junk mail and unsolicited catalogs into it without opening them, I now hit the Delete key when those same companies who used to court my business with colorful mail and bargain prices now flash across my computer screen as email each morning.
I could praise this paperless world, but it's not in my comfort zone. Nothing like a grand-kid's note reminds me who I am or was. What will happen to the life stories of those who found such joy in moments when they came across the letters tied with a ribbon in blue?
When my mother died, all her papers and pictures, saved in no particular order, were packed up and sent to me. The letters from her brothers and sisters, written in the 1940s from far-off places in Canada where they were raising their families, told of my mother at home in New York how their lives and their homes were. I located those letters and sent them to their children at Christmastime. They were thrilled to see a side of their parents they never knew.
Today that gesture would be impossible. Even if family letters were saved in a computer, the survivors would need a password. A CD-ROM might surface, or might not. We never miss what we've never had, just as I do not miss an iPad. I understand is now poised on the iPad, a tablet computer somewhere between a smartphone and a laptop. I won't miss owning one. Unlike the large extended Irish family of my childhood, it will be easy to pretend it never was.
I do have letters tied in ribbons of satin blue, and also somber letters edged in black - the way a death in the family came to those of us who lived far away.
There is nothing we can do about the post office fading away, and I even if I could I wouldn't alter the turn of events that led us to this stage of progress. I'm not losing a desired communication, just one means to that end. And, of course, I will save money.
Oh, speaking of money - the cold cash kind - how long will it be before we sound the death knell for legal tender and pocket change we carry? Probably as long as it takes to be able to proffer plastic cards at the village farmer's market, for tips, donations, newspapers or shoeshines and the like. It's just a matter of time, and no blue ribbons that speak of life.