When I was a kid...mail was a big deal.
Let me set the scene for you: I grew up in a small town. Usually when I say that, people picture a town of just 3 or 4 thousand people, lots of farms, plenty of Wranglers walking around, maybe a few tractors. And most of that would be right. But in my town, there were only about 500 people.
It was crazy small. However, one of the things I really liked about this small town was the post office. It was just a block or two away from me, and I was allowed to go there by myself. Which, for me, wasn't all that extraordinary, because in a town of 500, I was allowed to go pretty much wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted. And most of the time, I wasn't wearing shoes. My mom didn't worry. It was Fairfield for pete's sake. What would happen?
Anyway...I loved walking to the post office. It was usually unmanned, and without CCTV back then, so I could walk in without shoes, meander around, sit on the top of the tall sorting table if I wanted, play underneath it, and go through the trash can. You see, because it was a small town, and everyone in town had a P.O. box, rather than a personal mail box outside their house (I didn't have one of those until we moved when I was a 12th grader--it was so COOL to get our mail brought right to our house!) But, I digress...I would gather our mail, then go through the trash can, so see what junk mail I could find that might be useful to play with.
My mom once caught me and scolded me, telling me that it was a "Federal Offense" to steal mail. I didn't exactly know what a federal offense was, but I knew I didn't want to have one, so I stopped bringing home stuff that was inside envelopes. But I didn't stop stealing catalogues. I friggin' loved catalogues. Speigel, JC Penny, Lands End, REI, Fingerhut, Cabelas, United Colors of Benneton, Sears, Delia, Urban Outfitters, JCrew, and once........even a Fredricks of Hollywood catalogue came home with me.
(Though at the time, I could NOT figure out why in the world someone would want or need underpants with no crotch. After much consideration, I'd come to the conclusion that they were used by busy women. Women who didn't have time to pull down their underwear when they went to the restroom. In fact, after pondering this for a while, I decided that I needed to get me some of those open underpants, too. Color me surprised when my mother found THAT catalogue and read me the riot act about such things. I felt so foolish. I was just really excited that I'd found a catalogue with so many cool costumes! I was an extremely stupid child......)
I loved sending mail, too. For the longest time, stamps were a quarter, and if I could find a quarter somewhere in my house (usually under my brother's bed or in the couch cushions) I could send a letter to my cousin, Johnica, in Spokane! This was big news, because for the longest time, calling her was long distance (despite only being about 25 miles away) and so letters were out communication of choice. We would make comic book Soap Operas, "drawing" new episodes, and making our own homemade versions of "People" magazine (with pictures cut out from my swiped garbage can catalogues,) then we would send them back and forth with blank pages so that we could take turns adding to the sagas.
There was literally nothing better in the universe than getting a letter back from Johnica. The acoustics in the Post Office were excellent for my screams of excitement when I actually got mail. Real mail, not just mail stolen from the garbage can. I would open them at the tall sorting table (thrilled that I wasn't just sitting on it out of boredom, but rather, using it) then read it thoroughly, then refold it, tuck it back into the envelope, then walk the block and a half home--barefoot--to curl up in my room and read it again, before sitting down to pen the perfect reply. It was a meticulous process that I took extremely seriously.
Nowadays, we get email. And since we live in South Korea, snail mail is something of a lost art. I never get mail. And when I do, it's in Hangul, so I can't read it anyway. Occasionally, I'll get a wedding or graduation announcement from home in the USA, but for the most part, it's an empty metal box on the first floor of my apartment building. I miss the days of sending and receiving mail. The thrill of picking out new stationary, or of buying a 25 cent stamp. The excitement and affirmation that going to the mailbox and finding something in there waiting for me.
I loved garbage picking when I was a kid. I loved taking home discarded catalogues. I loved browsing for products and items I could never afford. I loved cutting out pictures and pasting them onto story boards about the families I was writing stories about. And when I created a character who was a mother, and also worked full time as a maid, it never occurred to me that the vinyl French maid costume from the Fredricks of Hollywood catalogue was in poor taste, though I did think the mom's body had held up well after having ten daughters, but whatever....
All my stories had big families filled with lots of girls. That's what happens when you come from a relatively small family with mostly boys.
I miss mail. It's sort of sad that mail is an exciting aspect of life that our kids will literally never understand.
(Though I'm grateful my children won't be going through post office garbage cans.)