The letter carrier hasn’t visited our house for over two weeks. It seems that one of our neighbors has an agressive dog, and the dog has attacked or threatened letter carriers several times over a couple of years. Nearly three weeks ago the letter carrier was injured, so the postmaster has stopped all delivery to houses on this block until the owner ties the dog up, fences it in, or gets rid of it. No one seems to know when this situation will be resolved. In the meantime I make a daily trip to the post office to pick up little bundles of mail and to drop off any mail we need to send, such as our latest Netflix that I returned today.
Not surprisingly, as I stand in line in front of the counter each day, my mind drifts back to postal service in my youth. In those days our household mail, along with my father’s business mail, was delivered to a lovely brass box in the post office, and the post office was an important part of my father’s social life. Each day my father visited the post office a couple of times to check the box and to chat with various others who happened to be in the lobby or working there at the time. News and rumor arrived at the post office both on paper and by word of mouth. But when I was older sometimes I was the one who went to fetch the mail.
I was too young, not bright enough or alert enough, didn’t know the people well enough, to take advantage of the social aspects of my post office visits, but I always loved the post office boxes. A short distance to the right of the counter, they formed what seemed a huge wall of small, ornate brass and glass doors, each with a number neatly stenciled on the glass and shiny knobs to work the combination locks. The wall glowed softly of old brass and dark windows, with edges of envelopes just visible inside. The boxes had no backs — when I opened the door of our box I could see straight through to the little room where postal workers sometimes stood, slipping into these individual brass cubby holes mail not destined for letter carrier delivery.
The post office box wasn’t very large. Packages, large envelopes, some magazines usually didn’t fit and had to be claimed from the counter. From time to time, when my parents planned to be out of town for more than a day or two, my father would leave a large cardboard box at the post office to hold the accumulation of paper, retrieving it, overflowing, on his return. Nevertheless it was sometimes amazing what they could stuff into that little brass box.
I don’t have a post office box here. Our mail is supposed to come to the house, but for the time being it doesn’t and I must wait at the counter while someone walks to the far distant back of the building to retrieve it from some storage area for undelivered mail. As I stand there I see that there is a social world of the post office here, just as there was for my father. I’m not part of it. I don’t yet know anyone in the lobby. The workers behind the counter are becoming familiar, but they don’t know me. And so for the time being I am just another resident of the 700 block of Milford Street waiting to get my mail. Maybe by the end of the week I won’t even be that.