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Why Saturday mail service still matters

February 06, 2013|By Paul Whitefield
  • Will children someday look at pictures of mailboxes and ask: "What's that?"
Will children someday look at pictures of mailboxes and ask: "What's… (Steve Helber / Associated…)

So the Postal Service is pulling the plug on Saturday mail delivery. And all across America, millions of folks are saying: “Who cares? I’ve got email and Twitter and Facebook; I pay my bills online.”

Sorry, guys, count me out. My reaction is -- well, let a great 20th century American philosopher say it for me. Here’s Janis Joplin’s “Piece Of My Heart”:

“Take another little piece of my heart now, baby!

Oh, oh, break it!

Break another little bit of my heart now, darling, yeah, yeah, yeah.”

I can’t help it. I love mail. The kind that comes in a mailbox. A real mailbox, the one that sits on a post in your yard, leaning a bit perhaps, a little worse for wear. The kind with a little flag you put up to alert the mailman you have to something to send. (Heck, I'm even fond of the slot-in-the-wall kind, with the creaky door and the too-small opening.)

The kind of mailbox that connects you to the world in a way a computer can’t.

Ah, you say, a Luddite. A goofy old guy who refuses to keep up with the times. A curmudgeon.

Nope, I’m none of those things -- well, OK, I’m some of those things. But I’m not a Luddite. I have email, and online banking, and Facebook. I even Skype, fer chrissakes!

But some good and noble and wonderful things are dying out in our modern world, and real mail is one of them. And I’m sorry to see another nail in its coffin.

Mail, real mail, is special. Or at least it used to be. I think back to my parents in rural Texas, when mail was part of the basic rhythm of their day: Up at 6, coffee on, breakfast, read the paper, chores, errands, then the mail came, same time every day. Most days it was just bills and junk mail, but sometimes it was more: A card, a letter, pictures of grandkids -- perhaps even a package -- from one of their children.

My mom and dad touched that mail, knowing it had been touched by someone who was part of them. Someone they loved but who was now far away. They recognized the return address, the handwriting, even the stationery.  

The cards went on the mantle. The pictures too -- or maybe on the fridge or in Mom's purse or Dad's wallet. They were shared with neighbors. They were talked about when the sender called. “Did you get the pictures I sent? Can you believe how Sam and Ben have grown?” “They look so much like you!”

Sure, you can email. We kids did with our parents, until they passed away.

But you can’t hold an email in your hand. And a digital photo may last forever, but try putting it in your wallet, kept at the ready for when someone asks: “So, how’s your son?”

The digital revolution has been a wonderful thing. It’s instant communication; it’s instant gratification; it’s the world at your fingertips.

Sometimes, though, what you want at your fingertips is not a mouse and a computer keyboard controlling a bunch of bits and bytes. You want something real, something you can hold onto.

It's called mail.  

And I’d prefer it keeps coming -- even on Saturday.


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