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By Staff | Jul 17, 2009

During the closing minutes of our wintertime visit to Hawaii I grabbed my camera and wandered the Kailua neighborhood where our nephew Adam lived.

My camera mostly caught plants that we Midwesterners can only see in a greenhouse. The lens brought into stark focus the huge differences between life in Hawaii and life on the prairie.

But then my camera saw something that elicited a deep and resonating sense of connection: a mailbox!

This Hawaiian letter receptacle had been gussied up by its owner, accessorized to the point where it was no longer a mere mail repository. It had become a work of art.

Influenced by his surroundings, the owner had bedecked his mailbox with a mermaid and a dolphin. He had also trimmed it generously with seashells, which were available in unlimited quantities just a few blocks away.

The mermaid seems to be in dire need of hair conditioner. Her facial expression is such that you don’t know if she’s petting the dolphin or trying to drown it.

Is it art? Is it kitsch? Who cares? What a totally unique mailbox!

These days we groan and moan when we report to work and face a full mailbox. This, of course, is in reference to e-mail mailboxes. Hardly anyone complains when their actual mailbox is full.

This is because receiving real mail means you’re a real person. Holding that first piece of mail addressed to you is a watershed moment, akin to your first kiss or finally being allowed to eat at the adult table.

Mail is still one of our main connections to the world, which is why we often individualize our mailboxes.

I’ve seen mailbox posts made of crankshafts, augers, logs, and even log chains. Such things would have been deemed frivolous when I was a kid, when the most common mailbox holder was a 4-by-4 post set into a 10-gallon milk can full of gravel. This setup wasn’t very pretty, but was very functional.

During the Bad Winter of ’68, the National Guard brought in its humungous snow clearing equipment to open the roads. We’re talking about machinery that looks as if it could digest an entire glacier in a matter of minutes.

It seems that the operators of these machines would be going along and would sometimes hear a slight thump as they passed farmsteads. These barely-noticeable whumps were milk can mailboxes being chewed up and spat way out into the adjacent field.

This is why we don’t get too ostentatious with our mailboxes: you never know when something might come along and put an end to your art.

All the mailboxes in the world would be useless without mail carriers. We’re lucky to have Larry, who is perhaps one of the best mailguys around.

Larry is the kind of guy who will not only inform you that your cows have busted out, he’ll also help you get those cows back in. He has doubtless performed numerous non-Postal

Service services such as changing light bulbs for little old ladies or assisting idiots who found themselves mired in snowdrifts.

And should you receive a plain brown package that has a scrupulously generic return address, Larry will hand it to you without so much as a raised eyebrow. Or so I’ve heard.

I understand that it’s a Federal Offense to mess with someone else’s mailbox. If that’s true, then Dad and I broke Federal Law a whole bunch of times nearly 40 years ago.

Dad had purchased a barn that was located several miles away and had hired a mover to relocate it to our farm. The barn was all jacked up and loaded onto dollies when the mover casually asked if we were going to “take care of” the mailboxes along the route. Huh? What did he imply by “take care of” them?

He meant getting them out of the way, of course. He was asking us to mess with other people’s mailboxes – clearly a Federal offense.

But the barn was already on the road, so we scurried ahead to move mailboxes out of harm’s way. Most were set in milk cans and were easily laid down, but a few were hung on thick posts sunk several feet into the ground. These took a bit of “persuasion”, if you know what I mean.

As soon as the barn was delivered we backtracked and replaced all the mailboxes, grateful that we hadn’t been spotted by the Postal Service’s mailbox malfeasance satellite. It was weeks before I could relax and accept that the postmaster general wasn’t about to arrest us.

We were also grateful that the mailboxes could withstand a bit of rough handling. And that none had been decorated with anything so ostentatious as a mermaid.

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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