We were always P.O. Box 39, from the year dot which must be when that old post office building came into being. The letterboxes looked like a solid wall of tiny metal doors, each with a cluster of small round ventilation holes. The key that unlocked the mini metal door with a particular amount of pressure and a certain ‘click’ was also small. This was a key that must never be mislaid.
Whenever I was sent to collect the mail (usually when my mother went inside to buy stamps) I couldn’t help feeling full of anticipation while turning the key and listening as the lock clicked, letting the door spring free and…oh joy, the box crammed from top to bottom with mail. Letters, bills, cards, brochures, catalogues, free calendars from the insurance companies and my father’s rolled up Farmer’s Weekly (not in plastic, just a band of paper with his address). And…yes! A letter from my penfriend.
The trouble with such a post office box was that if you didn’t empty it at least once a week, it would get crammed so full that nothing more could fit inside. The mail being collected depended on a trip to town to get supplies for the farm. If a parcel had come for you and was either registered, or too big, you would find a small note in the mailbox notifying you that you should collect it from the counter. I loved that little blue slip of paper! I still do. (Except now it is white.) “Brown paper packages tied up with string, these are a few of my favourite things”…if you have never received a parcel in the post, you’ve had one thrill less in your life.
Now I ask you, what happened to time, that there seemed to be so much of it then and so little of it now? Christmas cards came thick and fast and there was always a bit of a quandary as to where to display them all. I try my best to send cards to as many people as I can, mostly friends and family….even if it is possibly an unfashionable thing to do. I think people do still love receiving cards, even if they haven’t the time or inclination to send any themselves. I do still receive a few cards, mostly from abroad, and I love them to bits.
There is a very special thrill about receiving a letter by mail. If you are the sort of person who prolongs pleasure, you will not rip it open then and there. You will wait until you are home, study the stamp, the address, the postmark, the ink (all right I am exaggerating now) but nevertheless you will open it properly by sliding a letter opener in the fold of the flap and let it tear neatly. You will have something nice to drink by your side, and you will settle down to read.
To write somebody a letter means you travel into the depths of your mind and memory, recalling things in an interesting way. The conversation might be one-sided, but once you start, it can be quite difficult to put down that final full stop! The crown on this whole letter-writing experience would be if you have luxurious writing paper and an excellent fountain pen. Neither are so easy to find these days.
Texting…Even though sending a WhatsApp message is so much quicker than writing a letter by hand and also far quicker than typing an e-mail, I have been surprised to see how much time it does take….when you add it all up. Being quite pedantic about spelling and language, I’ll re-type a word that isn’t right because these days, “to save time”, all cellular phones seem to think they know what you are going to say. And my fingers are not very accurate on a screen, which is truly irritating. If you are not careful, you’ll be writing a whole lot of junk that is nothing close to what you had in mind. I can type blind on a keyboard, using nine fingers, but to fiddle with one finger at a time on a glass keypad can drive me nuts.
We take time to send even the most trivial little messages on WhatsApp, wait to see if they have been read, forward any number of silly video clips, have a laugh, spread the fun….When you spend a lot of time alone, these bits of contact are so welcome, they colour in your day. Yet that bit of happiness is fleeting. Nothing about the moment lasts – it must make way for the next beep. You could not tie these messages up in bundles with pretty ribbon and save them in a drawer….to be found by your descendants in a hundred years’ time! And if you had to add up all the minutes you spent in a day checking your phone and being busy on it, you could have sat down somewhere, quietly and quite relaxed, with something nice to drink and written someone a beautiful, interesting letter.
That reminds me, I received one this morning, a big fat envelope in an otherwise almost empty mailbox. (Which is no longer number 39) And I am going to find a quiet spot, put my feet up, and begin to read.