When I saw today’s photo topic, “Mail,” I was a bit stymied. After all, what’s artistic about mail? Pretty much the only mail I ever get these days is junk mail: credit card advertisements, slick brochures emblazoned with the soft-focus photo of some realtor who’s just dying to sell my house, charities wanting to prove their worthiness of my philanthropic dollars. We’re not due for any birthday cards in my house for another eight months, and even the packages we receive via FedEx and UPS, which we could probably stretch the definition of “mail” to include, are dull, generic, brown cardboard boxes.
I thought back to not so many years ago, when I was young, and mail was how we communicated with faraway family and friends. Long-distance calls were expensive and used only for special occasions; the daily news was passed around via handwritten letters. My mom and her parents and siblings used to sometimes circulate “round robin” letters: one person would pen a letter and send it to the next, who would read it, add their own letter, and pass it along, until it had reached the whole family and returned to the original sender, who would then remove their first letter, add another, and keep it going. Mail was exciting, and informative, and social. Mail was special. Getting mail was something of a status symbol. If you came home from school and Mom announced that there was a letter for you, you walked on air for the rest of the day, maybe even the rest of the week!
It occurred to me that although my mail isn’t very interesting these days, my mailbox was certainly around in the heyday of interesting mail delivery. My house isn’t that old; it’s not even as old as I am. But, like me, it was around in the days when the arrival of the mail was exciting. My mailbox has history.
You can tell just by looking at it that it’s been around a while and has seen quite a bit. I’m pretty sure that birds have attempted to build a nest underneath it once or twice. It’s weathered many a storm, hail and wind and sleet and lightning. It’s not as pretty as it was when it started out. It’s gotten somewhat obsolete. My kids have no idea what the curved rods at the bottom are for. (In their minds, newspapers are something you buy at the store when you’re going to do a messy craft project, not something that someone would ever bring to your house or that anyone would actually sit down and read.) They don’t get excited and run to the door when they hear the mailman on the steps. But they do love the occasional postcard or birthday card that appears in it with their name on it. It still has the ability to make them feel special, and loved, and remembered.
My mailbox reminds me that getting older, falling behind the times, and being needed less often doesn’t mean I don’t still have a purpose. Having a history and waiting patiently to fulfill that one important task, rare as it may be, is still a purpose. Even if that purpose is just to remind others that things were different long ago, even things as simple as mail.