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Rural Free Delivery


Sat, Jan 13th, 2001
Posted in

Monday, January 15, 2001

When it is seventeen minutes past noon, it is time for us to get the mail. Most of the time we can set our clocks by our mail delivery person who is very punctual. I once commented to him regarding his remarkable punctuality and he replied by saying, "Thatís the way itís supposed to be." He said it like it was obvious and easy. It isnít obvious and I doubt that it is easy. That is why I have tried to make his job no harder than it has to be. One time I even chastised my sons for digging a deep pit next to the mailbox and covering it with sticks and grass. They had built a "tank-trap" for the mailman. I didnít think that demonstrated good citizenship. The boys had the hole filled in by the time the mail arrived and an embarrassing federal offense was avoided.

I suspect that mail carriersí jobs are made more difficult because of the varied assortment of mailboxes that they encounter. A mailbox, as I understand it, is the property of the federal government as soon as it is placed in service. Iím sure there are buckets of regulations about how big a box should be and how far off the ground it is located and how close to the road it hangs and probably dozens of other criteria that I would never think of. There is also no doubt in my mind that almost all of these regulations are ignored. If most folks who live in the country are anything like me (an assumption I make with some hesitation), then they donít think much about what kind of mailbox they provide to the Feds. Whatever mailbox is on sale is what goes up. It sits on top of whatever post happens to be at hand and it is installed no closer to the road than where it is easiest to dig a hole. With equipment like this, it is a wonder that mail delivery takes place at all.

The only mailbox I ever knew at my childhood home was one that looked as if it were made by hand. If it was made by hand, then my great-grandfather probably made it. His name, which never faded, was written on the lid with a lead pencil. The mailbox, constructed of heavy galvanized sheet metal, was about eighteen inches long, six inches wide, and eight inches deep. The top hinged open like a lunchbox. There was no way that a mail delivery person in a car could see inside it to know if he or she had collected all the outgoing mail. Of course, this mailbox was designed and built before cars were invented, so it was probably just the right height for a horse-drawn vehicle. This mailbox served over three generations of my family. It was replaced because of two fatal design flaws. When the wind blew from the north, the lid blew open. The mail did not blow out, but rain or snow fell in. The flaw that ultimately led to its replacement was that, for an heirloom, it was unbearably ugly. It stood up to several wives, but one finally got her way and great-grandfatherís mailbox was history.

Wives notwithstanding, the snowplow is the worst enemy of the rural mailbox. Giving the snowplow operator the benefit of the doubt, it is hard to plow close to each mailbox without hitting one now and then. I was having lunch with my friend, Paul, the other day and we were discussing this very thing. I was smug because our mailbox has never been downed by a passing plow and I said as much. As always, I should have kept my mouth shut and not have been so smug. That same evening when I got home, there was our mailbox, lying decapitated in the ditch. It was a handsome mailbox, but not built to stand the tests of time. I wonder if Great-grandfatherís mailbox is still around.

Wayne Pike

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