My grandma passed my stamp collection on to me with nearly 200 pages already filled. She also gave me a starter coin collection, but I could never get anywhere with it, surreptitiously spending the rare quarters, dimes and nickels at the Ben Franklin every chance I could.
The stamp collection eventually grew to several books once my other grandparents started to get first-day envelopes sent to me on a regular basis, until it was stolen from a big moving company shipment. But I still love stamps … and post offices.
It seems like the USPS gets faced with a partisan onslaught every decade. Privatize, come the calls. Get rid of the waste. Get with the times and recognize that more people communicate digitally, or by phone, or by FedEx and UPS.
But what about the daily walk to the post office? I’ve lived in many a town where the chance of finding rolled-up mail in the mailbox was the highlight of a day, along with the chance to run into a neighbor or three.
Every post office is unique. West Kill’s was tiny, with beautiful copper boxes and a combination mechanism for opening them. Window hours were sparse, but you could always catch up on community news on its walls, as well as the nation’s top ten most wanted criminals.
Phoenicia’s is pedestrian, architecturally, but a special place to catch up with one’s friends.
New Paltz, Red Hook, Delhi, and Catskill have classic New-Deal monuments.
Woodstock fought over the loss of their old space, now home to a fancy ice-cream boutique, but then welcomed the studied homey nature of its replacement.
Everyone was in love with Jane, the small Hunter P.O.’s longtime postmistress.
Everyone lamented when Boiceville’s space had to be vacated for possible mold problems last year, and celebrated when it reopened.
Whenever we’ve had to get our passports updated, we’ve done so at a favorite rural post office next door to a gas station or country-chic breakfast/lunch spot. For years, I’d do my complicated holiday mailings (CD mixes sent out to a massive list of friends and acquaintances) from a half dozen small P.O.s scattered over a few counties.
Every few years I’ve had to write about small rural post offices being forced to close. Sometimes there’s enough of an outcry that the closing’s postponed. Usually not.
Now the president’s saying he wants the USPS to accept one of his ultimatums: raise package rates or bye-bye. This has prompted innovative reactions, including junior U.S. senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s idea that post offices be allowed to cash checks and perform other governmental functions.
I live now in a city that gutted its post offices, and increasingly its blue street boxes as well. It’s a trend that runs counter to my nature, not to forget a heritage that includes stamp collections and treasured P.O. boxes.
If ever there was a bipartisan issue to pull us all back together as a proud nation, maybe this one’s it.
Read more installments of Village Voices by Paul Smart.