Once in a while there are small news items about bizarre highway accidents involving trucks. The ones that pique my imagination might describe a sorghum molasses tanker that crashes into a center guard rail on a freeway, and molasses leaks all over the pavement. The next truck, a grain hauler, skids on the molasses and overturns several tons of wheat into the sticky goo. Hundreds of crows and pigeons nearby are attracted to the grain, get stuck in the molasses, and need to be rescued by animal welfare volunteers. It’s serious business. It’s also quite funny when I give my imagination free rein to wonder how it all unfolds.
Another imagination wondering I have sometimes is when a highway accident involves a postal truck. If the truck catches fire, or the contents get soaked or smooshed or otherwise walloped, what then? Does all that mail just get hauled unceremoniously to the nearest dump?
I think not.
I think there are US Postal workers – lots of them – whose job it is to see that damaged mail is salvaged and eventually gets to its intended destination, regardless of its condition. I have proof of this from several weeks ago when I received this package:
It had been mailed from Indiana five months earlier. At first glance I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around what I was seeing.
When I opened the package, this is how the contents looked:
There was no explanation to accompany the contents – just sooty, ragged, acrid-smelling pages of what was once the December 2020 newsletter from the Historical Society of Ogden Dunes (the village where I grew up) and an equally-battered illustrated monograph on the four-decade long effort to preserve the eroding Lake Michigan shoreline of the village.
Somewhere along the highways and byways between Indiana and Washington, this package – and, I assume, the vehicle that carried it – had come to grief. And somewhere, between Indiana and Washington, this package and its companions were hauled to a building where eventually a USPS employee carefully salvaged the delivery address and the return address from the original torn and sooty envelope, taped those to a fresh Priority Mail envelope, inserted the damaged contents, and sent everything on the way to me.
I sort of wish that kind employee had inserted note with a hint as to what the intervening story was. For now I’ll just have to rely on my imagination. But even if I’d gotten such a note, it might not have clarified things entirely, as you will now see . . .
True Story (as first mentioned in my blog post entitled “Gastropods” in August of 2017):
In 1999 I received in the mail a clear plastic envelope from England. It held a Swiss-cheese-looking paper envelope containing an equally-tattered letter from my daughter. The envelope sported a single blue BY AIR MAIL/par avion/ Royal Mail sticker, the only thing that was still perfectly intact. Also enclosed in the plastic envelope was a letter from Mr. Roland D. Phillips, Royal Mail Customer Services Manager. The British decorum of the letter – and its explanation – are worth repeating word for word:
I am sorry to have to report that the enclosed letter is reaching you in a most regrettable condition. Although we go to great lengths to protect our customers’ letters from [here the word dirt is crossed out and the word snails handwritten above it] and the weather while they are moving around the country, we have failed to look after this one properly.
Please accept my apologies. If there is anything further we can do to help, please contact your local Customer Service Centre.
Yours sincerely, Roland D. Phillips
A few years later I would learn that snails actually have thousands of teeth, and that they particularly like paper for an evening snack. This story gives a whole new breadth to the phrase “snail mail,” doesn’t it?
And both of these mail delivery mishaps illustrate the commitment of the USPS, and the Royal Mail, to their creed: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night [nor highway accidents nor voracious snails] stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”
Have you thanked your postal carrier recently?
Lovely, Cynthia. The mail is rife with stories, many of which I want to write eventually… meanwhile, I also want to write more about snails… I’m grateful for you, your wit, your wisdom, and your writing.
Coming from one of my favorite writers, this is quite a compliment!
Oh, what a charming story! Snail mail. Love it. I have just completed an epic family history book: 1500 letters written by my father’s family (and my mother) during WWII. A lost art indeed. And weeks it took for letters to crisscross the Atlantic. We are such whiners. Thank you for the lovely post. Gretchen
And, oh, how we are learning NOT to whine as we make our ways through these astounding months of our own histories! It feels as if our souls’ mentors/companions are holding our feet to the fire as never before!
Thanks for checking in, Gretchen. And congratulations on finishing your family project – “EPIC” indeed!
There are many wonderful twists and turns to ponder in this blog post, but what is staying with me is the elegance and clarity of Roland D. Phillips’ letter. It is a lost art to give an unqualified apology, convey true regret and give no excuses. I read this several times, realizing how rare such a thing is. Well, done, Mr. Phillips!
“I erred. I’m sorry. I’ll try not to do that again. Thank you for listening.”
It’s so simple – or could be, if we’d just try it once in a while!
I agree – Bravo, Mr. Phillips!
Our mutual Grandparents sent me a letter each and every week of my 4 years of college. Grandfather would write the cover and Grandmother would fill the back with many meals they’d had during the week and where they were eaten. They’d also include tid-bits of news from the store or the rest of the family. If your folks had been down – how long they stayed. Many times Grandfather would include sage advice. My dorm friends the first year would gather around when I got a letter from them to listen as I read them aloud. I have continue this practice of weekly letters to kids I’ve known that went into the service or college… the earliest are now approaching 60. I hope you have memories or even the actual letters from AO and Gertie as I do. Treasured history of love. Oh so thankful for the USPS!
Treasured memories, indeed.
Yes, I thank our USPS people often.
Love your stories.
And thanks back atcha!
What an entertaining post! I have had many similar ponderings about the fate of mail trucks, though with no evidence, such as you have provided. I did have a delightful post office incident many years ago, whose details escape me. Someone sent me a book with an improper address. There was a tip-off on the parcel that I struggle to recall, perhaps a Sufi quote. One day I went to the little Maple City post office (which I rarely used), to mail a package. The clerk stared at it, looked at me, and told me to wait a minute. She had recognized the return address and connected something about me with a parcel that had made the rounds of several post offices, with my name on it but no means to locate me. It seemed quite miraculous to me that no one had tossed out that piece of mail!
I have been voicing my support for the USPS ever since and became very alarmed as the trump administration made efforts to dismantle it. We still need to act to remove Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, who remains in that position and, I gather, does not care diddly squat for the agency.
Wonderful story! The small-town postmistress is the hero/town crier of many a period-piece novel. And thank you for bringing in the current events of the postal service . . .
Thanks for this reminder… of the foibles and dedication of postal service. In the US the postal service is under intense pressure–appearing to “fail” and “fall behind” private deliveries, yet essential to the cohesive nature of our country in many ways. Really, do we want the IRS/SSI using Fed Ex? Do we want to carry on all financial transactions electronically so that the Russians/Nigerians/Martians can withdraw directly from our hacked bank accounts? Not me. I like paper–not junk mail, but the joy of a real letter. If it takes a week to get somewhere, so be it. If it takes months–well that’s a good story, like the ones you have just told. I do my best to engage postal employees in the Office and at the mail box, to appreciate their continued services during this time of immense shift. Your pony express friend, christina
I have grandchildren who occasionally send me for-real handwritten letters (not cursive, of course – that is now a mysterious code to that generation.) But I’ll treasure the purple-ink block print any time it arrives!
What a fun outlook on what some would be infuriated by!
In most cases fury is a waste of energy anyway. Thank you for seeing the fun in this.
Thanks, Cynthia, for the inspiring stories and the timely reminder!
Now all I have to do is listen to my own wisdom!