Mail is an adventure
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OPINION

Mail is an adventure

I’m not the most hi-tech person. I hear that email is so yesterday and I’m shocked. Yesterday, in my book, is beyond pigeons or the pony express, but surely it cannot mean the email, WhatsApp, or Facebook are no longer cutting edge.

I’ve gone far enough with all this computer stuff. I can do what I can do, with absolutely no comprehension as to how it works, why it works, or how it can be made better. Let’s just say that I can sustain my needs, primitive as they may be. I’m an old lady, and I’m happy to be where I am.

Whether it’s a ping on my phone or seeing the mail truck ride by, I’m driven to read my mail. Mostly the snail mail is routine or junk. The email is a mixed bag. Lately I’ve figured out how to stop many of the advertisements. Most of the time, unsubscribing really works, although I don’t believe them when they finalize the transaction by telling me they’ll miss me. Come on!

I love to open actual letters, with my name written by hand, one of those sticky gift return addresses taped on the top left corner of the envelope, and a genuine stamp affixed on the righthand corner. That’s an adventure.

Maybe it’s a personal letter from a reader who doesn’t like what I’ve written, which leads me to review what I wrote and perhaps reevaluate. Perhaps! Or better yet, maybe it’s from a reader who likes what I’ve written!

Despite my disclaimers, I’ve been using electronic mail longer than most of my cohort. My son brought it home to us when he finished college and started work at a new internet provider. That was long before Facebook or Google or even AOL. Since I am basically very technically challenged, I took to it laboriously and also suffered from internet loneliness. Hardly anyone I knew was using it, so who was I to be in touch with?

I also struggled with the concept, much like I did with the microwave in the early days. How could it cook a potato in five minutes? Impossible! And how could email be instant? No stamp. No envelope. No delay. Impossible!

Alas, now I, like you, complain if there’s a time lag. I recently was online on an airplane flying over the Atlantic. How could I be so ungrateful as to kvetch about a two-minute internet slowdown at more than 30,000 feet?!

I could. And I did!

And now there’s something that combines snail mail and internet mail. Maybe not so exciting for you more sophisticated travelers, but I am now in Israel, and every weekday I receive a note from the USPS, the United States Postal Service, via email of course, with pictures of our mail in New Jersey. This is really cool, and it’s also free. While I can’t read the mail, I can see the outside of the envelopes. To me this is fascinating, and its especially important if we’re waiting for something to arrive and merely want to know if it did. The problem, however, is the mail itself. It’s not the mail that I craved for much of my life. It’s mostly advertisements, for stuff I don’t really want. Nevertheless I scour that note every weekday!

Like everyone, I used to get a lot more snail mail. I didn’t have an email account and all the mail arrived in a real mailbox, not a virtual one. I remember peering into the box to check to see if there was mail in there and feeling some excitement when there was. It could be anything, a personal letter, or boring bills and grownup stuff for my parents.

Our mail on Aldine Street came once a day via a cheerful mailman, whose name changed through the years. He always walked, carrying a big leather bag on his back. No truck for him. And yes, he was always a he! Women didn’t deliver mail when I was young. They didn’t put out fires or drive trucks either. And mail trucks, with their driver sitting on the right side, were as yet unknown, at least in our Weequahic neighborhood. The mail came reliably in mid-afternoon and neither rain nor sleet kept this jaunty gentleman from his duties, six days a week, unless there was a holiday when he had the day off. I honestly don’t remember if he came the day of the 1947 blizzard. Probably he did.

In our Parksville summers we had no mail delivered to the Bauman House. We were the owners of Box 96 in the little wooden post office building, nestled beside the Willowemoc Creek in the village. That box got filled three times a day, so the really obsessive could walk into town and retrieve the mail all day long. Our combination was 4 ½, 2, 7. (I wonder why I can still remember that set of numbers that I haven’t used in more than 60 years and I can’t remember all the passwords of today.) I loved getting postcards from my friends and hearing about their activities. And when I would return with the mail, our tenants at the kuch alein would gather around to see if they were lucky enough to have received mail. It was a good day if a letter came with cheerful news.

Lots of things came via snail mail in those days. There were, for example, no e-vites. An invitation to a wedding or bar or bat mitzvah was always elaborately packaged in a big envelope with, usually, a calligraphed address. So fancy! And so expensive! Receiving beautiful mail like that was an event in itself.

Even when I was no longer a kid I loved the mail, especially if our kids were at, say, Camp Ramah, and they filled out one of those pre-made postcards I had bought for them so they could send their status checks easily. Camp is great. Check! Please send a package. Check. Having fun. Check!

No excitement was as palpable, or as nerve wracking, as college acceptances. We all knew that a thick envelope contained an acceptance. A thin envelope did not deliver good news. Fortunately we got four thick responses. Whew.

The most frustrating mail, especially for my parents, were those skimpy aerogrammes from Israel. My sister had moved to Israel as one of those Americans drawn there in the wake of the Six Day War. The messages almost always carried good news but opening them was a challenge. Their tissue thin paper was almost impossible to read without tearing and/or destroying the precious words within. Each one was shared over and over again until the next one arrived. My mother and father were always so relieved to receive them and know all was well.

I never ever suggested to them that all being well in the two weeks or so it took for the aerogramme to arrive in New Jersey was not a reliable source of information. Certainly these were not instant messages.

What comes in the so-called snail mail these days is often really depressing. We get endless advertisements for senior living, assisted living, and nursing homes. Have we outlived our welcome to this planet? Apparently yes. These facilities all sound so lovely and social and tempting. Gourmet meals and all. Actually my father had an excellent experience at Achuzat Beit in Raanana. But we’d still prefer to wait before entering that stage of our lives.

We also get lots of advertisements for credit cards. I guess that means we’ve been responsible creditors since they all want our business. Hooray for us. And real estate agents always tell us they have a buyer for our house. We’re also reached by all kinds of home improvement people who want to clean our ducts or fix our plumbing or paint our rooms. I understand. They’re in business and that’s the American way. Plus, it supports local printers who also have to earn a living.

I’m writing this from Jerusalem, where the post office is less reliable than in New Jersey. But in this great start-up nation, they are so adept at technology that every kid is rapid-speed sending text mail or email, chick-chock, and in Hebrew yet!.

I often think of my parents, awaiting the aerogrammes. How would they have reacted to Facetime? You can just imagine!

And how I would love to Facetime with them right now.

Rosanne Skopp of West Orange is a wife, mother of four, grandmother of 14, and great-grandmother of three. She is a graduate of Rutgers University and a dual citizen of the United States and Israel. She is a lifelong blogger, writing blogs before anyone knew what a blog was!

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