We got a garden seed catalog in the mail this week, as many of you probably did.
It’s a great time to think about spring bulbs breaking through the ground while the thermometer mercury drops lower than Lance Armstrong’s popularity ratings (as if that’s possible) and the winter winds howl outside like hungry pack wolves.
But I was thinking about more than the catalog on the day it arrived. As I pulled up my collar in the wind and did the “wimpy mom run” back to the house, I was thinking about what our lives would be like without a mailbox out here on the farm.
One of our neighbors writes in her Christmas letter each year that, ” part of the fun of the holidays is going to the mailbox.” I always love to read that line because it reminds me that we are rural, and that our lives are not like those of our urban friends.
Mailboxes, like people, come in all shapes and sizes. They need to be cleaned inside and out once in awhile, and they groan with stiffness in the cold – just like people. They sit quietly along gravel roads and take their places along busy highways. They are simple in stature, but represent something very serious – they’re a federal icon.
When you’re a kid and you live 10 miles from one town and a little further from the next one, you don’t just go to town for any piddly reason. Especially if your dad was like my dad. So you stayed home. A lot.
It was special when you got to see people who came to the farm. Jim Tisch drove a rural grocery truck. He brought a little bit of food and civilization right to the end of our house yard sidewalk.
When Bob Bullington would come to fill the farm fuel barrel, he always had caramel suckers for each of us kids. It was probably his way of attaining young company, but we were too happy to have the suckers to figure that out then.
The coming of our mailman – Don Nitzschke – was always exciting during the summer months when we were young and out of school, because he came by everyday.
Every now and then we would skip down the lane to wait for him, and he usually had some candy or gum for us, followed by a brief exchange of lively conversation.
I’m reminded of the anthrax scare a few years ago, and how weird I thought it was that people would use any means to hurt other people. But a mailbox? It hardly seemed possible.
I remember driving to work in the days following when the government mandated that all rural mailboxes were to be left hanging open until the mail carrier arrived. It was a reminder that we’re all vulnerable at the hands of those who don’t care about life the way most people do.
While it can be exciting to go to the mailbox to retrieve a check or a long-awaited note, it can also be a scary place to go when times on the farm are not that good.
As young farmers, we had hogs in 1998 – probably more hogs than we’d ever had here – when the bottom fell out of the market. Going to the mailbox was like walking the plank in those days.
Bills seemed larger than life. Happy things seemed only “so” happy. Letters that had our bank’s return address were the scariest to open.
As we look to the world of the future and think that the postal service could be a thing of the past, it makes me a little nostalgic. Will there be children someday who grow up never knowing the thrill of receiving something wonderful in the mail?
A friend of mine said there is nothing she enjoys more than a hand-written card or thank-you note sent to her in the mail. And how many times do you drive past a farm and read the name on the mailbox to see who lives there?
The rural mailbox is another connection to the outside world. The Statue of Liberty stands in the New York Harbor with her torch, welcoming those who pass by. The rural mailbox takes its place quietly along the road, its side flag as its humble greeting to those passing by, and its contents as its daily contribution to society.
They’re proof that rural people really do exist.
They stand as a testament to the lives we choose to live out here, especially in the winter when snow drifts block gravel roads until a tractor and snow blower can clear a path to the main road; and in the spring when muddy roads create quagmires to navigate.
Thank goodness for rural mail carriers, who also have to navigate those same roads to get our mail to us each day.
We should appreciate them a lot more than we do.
Schwaller is a Farm News correspondent from Milford. Reach her by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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