Sunday, July 21, 2013

Getting Mail Sure Ain't What It Used To Be!

Growing up on the farm, mail was delivered three days a week - Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The mailbox was about a 1/4 mile down the road from the end of our lane - where two gravel country roads intersected. A nice walk almost any time of year and a short bike ride if there wasn't snow or mud.

It was a simple metal box on a wooden pole. The box was just far enough off the road that it wouldn't (usually) get hit by a vehicle but close enough that the mailman could pull onto the shoulder and put the mail in it without getting out of his vehicle. The box never had a lock on it. If the door was open, there wasn't any mail. If it was shut then there was mail inside. The boxes were occasionally used for target practice but I don't remember any damaged contents. If the wind was just right in winter, snow could fill an open box! In spring, you'd often find the beginnings of birds' nests inside. To prevent a full blown nest, it was wise to check and clear the box even on non delivery days. At Halloween, we'd remove the box and return it the following morning to prevent any tampering or thievery. Neighbours or friends passing by, would sometimes leave messages for each other if they didn't have time to stop by or if they didn't want to spend the money on a stamp to deliver a card!

In short, you never knew just what you might find inside that box!

If we were in town, we could stop at the post office to pick up a package that was too big for the box (usually a mail order from Eaton's or Sear's) or to see if there was anything else, but generally there was nothing that important that it couldn't wait a few days. Those living in town, had box numbers and could check their mail every day if they wanted.

We had the same mailman for many years. He knew everyone on the routes and all the kids names as well. If you happened to be waiting at the box or walking down the road as he came along his route, he'd often take a few minutes for a short chat!

There was an understanding between him and the people on his routes. We could leave letters to be mailed with a few coins taped to the envelope and he'd see that it got mailed for us. If there was any change due, it would be in our box the next delivery day. If a letter was sent postage due, he'd still deliver it, but add an envelope for us to put the needed funds in to cover it. We'd leave the funds for him to collect on his next day.

Occasionally, if he had the time, he'd actually bring packages that looked fragile or that may freeze right to our house rather than leave them to the elements or haul it back to the town post office.

Our mailman eventually retired. Things were also slowly starting to change thanks to decrees from higher ups in the postal service.

I think it was sometime during the early 1990's the rural mail started getting delivered Monday through Friday. Seemed odd to my folks, considering that they didn't get a lot of mail and that postal rates kept going up. In more recent years, the box has also been moved to the end of the farm lane and now has a box and route number on it rather than a name.

Over the last few decades, all of our mailboxes have gotten less and less use. Cheques and bills are mostly paid through direct deposit or at the bank. Letters and cards have been replaced by emails or a phone call. The mostly unwanted paper flyers are about the only things found in our boxes.

Times have certainly changed! A lot of postal services have now been eliminated, automated or are handled on line. Personal service has decreased, yet rates continue to rise.

I recently received not one - but TWO envelopes from Canada Post. They arrived about three weeks apart. Both had my address, but rather than my name, it said "dear resident". The contents? An 8 1/2" X 11" page with English on one side and French on the reverse. The purpose? They were worded slightly differently but both had the same purpose. Just to let us customers know about their "mail hold" services in the event we might be away for awhile!
Yup, Canada Post has resorted to writing its own letters so the carriers still have something to put in our boxes. Not to mention the cost and waste of paper used to print, process and deliver in windowed envelopes! Okay, so the envelopes were made with recycled paper, but in my opinion, this was a HUGE waste of resources and finances! An addressed letter does tend to get a bit more attention from a customer, but if they had to tell us about this program - or any others - a promotional card would have been cheaper and used a lot less paper! 

At the same time, Postal Services here in Canada, the USA and other countries are crying poverty and huge losses thanks to decreases in letter volume. 

Postal services are contemplating ways to save some money - including reducing delivery service to three days/week.

Businesses are crying foul. They still use flyers to keep customers coming and spending money. Charities do a lot of their work through the mail. Consumers aren't thrilled either. They all want daily delivery even if it means only getting junk mail! Everyone seems to want to keep the status quo but no one wants to foot the bill for it! We've pretty much all been spoiled by the speed and availability of the internet to rely on what was the good old days of the pony express.

I rarely use snail mail anymore. Finances are done through direct deposit, preauthorized payments, plastic and cash. Most letters are done via email. Aside from a few birthday cards to relatives who don't have email or an occasional sympathy card, I rarely mail a letter. I still get a couple of newsletters and a magazine but those could be switched to online versions if I choose. Other than that, about the only things I get in the mail are packages - things I've ordered from The Shopping Channel or Amazon.

There are other options for letter and package delivery, but most still rely on Canada Post rather than pay a premium to use one of the express carriers. We want our mail services in a timely, efficient and cost saving manner.

The good old days of mail delivery are long gone. I'm not holding my breath that a more efficient service will come along any time soon.

I'll check my little cubbyhole mailbox with its own lock a few times a week. I won't find snow, or makings of a bird nest. I won't find an unstamped message from a friend or neighbour. There will be a few flyers and an occasional bill, letter or notice that I have a package to pick up.

For the most part, my mailbox, like many in this modern technological society, will be empty. Sitting there wondering what purpose it really serves. Wondering if the stories of its ancestral mailboxes frequently being filled to overflowing with all kinds of items were really true or if it is just folklore....


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