Miracle Mail

Miracle Mail  from  Bookseedstudio/ Jan Godown Annino

The entryway basket brims with these.

December card with lighted trees,  Tucson, AZ

December card with lighted trees, Tucson, AZ

Every holiday card in the palm frond basket is plucked from our ginormous black box at the end of our driveway.

As a child on my appointed rounds, as I ambled in the scratchy fields and skimmed along the sides of dark woods,

a mile post I liked to spot was a mailbox.

They marked entrances to private lanes that snaked through lands where fox, deer and raccoon ate.

When I came upon one or a few boxes collecting road dust, nailed to a weathered wood platform jammed in the ground at the side of our  very Rural Free Delivery route, I thought of them as treasure boxes.

Unlike other country children who made sport of opening boxes to deposit a bubble gum wrapper or to pronounce a distant postmark like

Kalamazoo, I never dared open any mailbox but our own.

My mother raised me to respect the privacy of the U.S. Mail.  I watched how, when her name wasn’t on the address, she wouldn’t open an envelope or package delivered to our mailbox. This held true for 3rd class mail, such as a seed catalogue offering money tree plants and gladiolus bulbs.

My mother was a former big city news reporter with a stunning supply of worldly knowledge, who in my child days met deadlines from her home office as a country weekly agricultural writer. She taught me that it was a FEDERAL OFFENSE to take anything out of a mailbox  that wasn’t ours.  She was the only mother who somehow had the scoop that the mailbox was part of the vast U.S. Postal system and  woe to those who would tamper with the  sanctity of the U.S. Mail.  She did mention jail.


With her pledge of allegiance to the letter law, she delivered  a gift to this mailbox watcher.

What was in those secret mailboxes? Could I guess?

In my mind the mailbox of the family with the dairy herd and egg-laying chickens got letters complaining about the manure smell.

Maybe our neighbor the airline pilot got tissue paper envelopes with slices of red white and blue around the border, indicating Air Mail from Los Angeles where they made the movies or London where Mary Poppins lived.

And our famous neighbor around on the other side of the fields and ravine woods, by a branch of the Raritan River, the cartoonist, maybe he received boxes of brilliant colored inks and pens.

These far-off thoughts return to me after days away for Holidays, as I resume my appointed rounds past mailboxes in North Florida urban woods. Sidewalks and good pavement smooth my way, instead of having to navigate rutted side of the road ditches. But most mailboxes look a lot like those of my kid  years in New Jersey, in black or silver tones. Ours aren’t locked boxes, as are so many today.

During the holidays, at a resort where went to see some mighty fine clear salty waters that held gentle giants, the manatees,  a woman saw me my reading one morning as I luxuriated in a wonderful newspaper that I don’t hold in my hands often enough, The Tampa Bay Times (formerly known as the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times. when I was a cub reporter there, just a teen.)

“Any good news in it?” she asked in a voice that said she doubted that.

I looked up from the resort lobby sofa to find a smiling open face on a woman with a blonde ponytail, who I judged to be about 45.

I smiled back, silent.  I was deep into an article about a thoughtful couple who recently lived for a month using only candlelight after dark.

The smell of print newspapers is like perfume to me. I fished her out the food and feature sections. They are almost guaranteed to carry between the two of them, hundreds of items, small and larger than small, that are good news.  And that’s every day.  I went back to my reading & thinking, before the start of a busy family day.

“Guess there never is any good news,” she continued.

Of course I looked again.

She hadn’t picked up the sections I offered.

“Oh, there is good news in the paper every day, “ I said, pleasantly. I looked down to the sections on the sofa cushion that separated us.

The face that looked back said she didn’t buy that. So I mentioned club news and fun events in the parks and birthday announcements and parties to go to and charity successes and new recipes and Good Samaritan stories. A mailbox full of good news, if you read each piece.

“They always point out the bad,” she went on, ignoring my idea.

So I said, pleasantly, “Maybe it’s that people choose to remember the bad news. Or…” I looked at the languishing sections I had offered, ”…they don’t even read the good news.”  I went back to my reading. I saw her later, filling a to- go coffee in the lobby and wished her a good new year.

When I walk in my neighborhood I notice the flower beds and bikes left in the yard and cats snug against a warm back tire. Remembering F.R.D,

I also like to look at the mailboxes.

Good news # 1.  Almost every mailbox recently held a card of good cheer. Some mailboxes, like ours,  delivered MANY cards of good cheer:

Good news #2.  Isn’t an unlocked mailbox that it opened only by those entitled to, a daily miracle of  the mail? Send someone a treasured family photograph from the good old days, or a box of homemade cookies. Or mail a handmade bookmark, a crayon drawing, a postcard from vacation. Know that your postal mail won’t be tampered with, part of a social experiment that dates back to Ben Franklin (and the establishment of the U.S. Mail P.O. Department in 1792 following his becoming postmaster in 1775.)

Good news #3  If you live in a neighborhood where the mailboxes are locked up because the mail stands a large chance of being tampered with, know that there are still  hundreds, maybe thousands of zip codes (there are more than 42,000 U.S.A. zips according to Wikipedia) where the door to your old-fashioned mail box can hang ajar, even full frontal open, with contents vulnerable inside and yet the most human tampering that will be done is a gentle shoving of the door closed, by some neighbor, on her appointed rounds.

Happy postal mail, happy new year.

2 thoughts on “Miracle Mail

  1. I may pick another background but simple black is back for now.

    Thanks for your ideas on this blog Adrian. And for your continuing kind words.

    For children who don’t receive personal mail, there must be a disconnect about respecting
    what those boxes mean. And yes of course, if no one ever taught them the rules, it could seem as normal as turning over a log by the side of the road, to see what was underneath.

    We are back from Atlanta where by chance out & about, I met a retired educator who operates a more informal version of FPL that she calls Sally’s Library. She was delighted to hear about you & she may get in touch with me via this blog & therefore you, because she will see that you have commented. Good luck with your never ending excellent modeling for the neighbor children.

    A cold here for me, nice company here for us all & some miles to go on the pavement before I call the Holidays ended!


  2. In my neighborhood the long days of vacation from school, and kids with working parents has generated a spate of kids going through mailboxes, even stealing Christmas gifts–finding torn wrapping paper dropped by a mailbox raider just floored me–but we are a community, and tomorrow, at the Front Porch Library I will stress one of the points you made. Mail tampering is a federal offense.

    Community is fragile and when shared values, like respect for the mail is not being taught at home, those of us who love our neighborhoods have to do our best to get the message across.

    Thanks for the beautiful post Jan. And thanks for going over to black for the background. It is much easier on the eyes.


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