Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Postal Lament by Val Matthews

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” That the United States Postal Service would have such a motto, just added to the romance and excitement of emigrating to America.

I grew up in South Africa, and emigrated to the United States when I was a married woman of about thirty-five. All those years in South Africa and I have absolutely no recollection of how our mail was delivered, no recollection of any particular mailmen or postmen as we would have called them, no picture in my mind even of what a South African mailbox looked like.

So in our house north of NY city we were very excited by our mailbox and the fact that we could put letters into the box and raise the little flag and the mailman would pick up our letters and deposit our new mail. We came to know and love our mailman -- he was with us for the eleven years we lived in that house. I remember him coming to the front door once with a letter one of my children had written, and telling me that the post office wouldn’t mail it. The stamp had been licked so thoroughly that the glue had all gone, and cellotape fixed the stamp to the envelope. He waited while I put on a fresh stamp.

After some years back in South Africa we moved to downtown Charlottesville, Virginia. Once again a friendly and obliging mailman was our friend for six years and when we moved out into the county, he passed the word to the mailman he knew would be serving us at our new address.

We were now living on a large bit of land and knew none of our neighbours – in fact they did not know that the farm had changed hands. So guess who passed the word? Our new mailman. Without him I wonder how long it would have taken for us to meet our neighbours. I called him a community builder – he admitted that perhaps he became too involved in matters of the community, but his heart was in the right place.
Now, sadly, the postal service is struggling and has to cut back. So much mail and parcel delivery is now being done through Fedex or UPS, so many bills are paid on line. I still receive bills in my mailbox and make payment in the old way, but most of my mail is junk and goes straight into recycling. Fewer and fewer people send actual letters or Christmas cards –email is easier.

Saddest of all, many of the older career mail delivery people have been ‘encouraged’ to take early retirement, so our mailman has gone. I no longer know who puts the mail in my mailbox and certainly they never bring a parcel to the door, perhaps just as an excuse to have a quick chat. Or bring some note or present that has been dropped in my box just to check and see that it’s not something weird. Or to suggest that leaving mail overnight in my box is not a wise idea.

It does seem rather sad that as society advances, and becomes more efficient and cost saving, so the little personal civil contacts and services that make life pleasanter, tend to disappear.

                                                                   --Val Matthews lives in Albemarle County


  1. As a retired letter carrier I wholeheartedly agree with Mrs. Matthews' sentiments.


  2. Val's retired Albemarle County mailman, was Jim Bingler, who carried Rural Route 6 for many years. Mr. Bingler is the son of James T. "Monk" Bingler, who once carried Rural Route 1 out of Charlottesville. Both Binglers had reputations as friendly, helpful, and cheerfully loquacious postmen.

  3. I recall the various postmen in my life...including the one that found my wondering 3 year old child and brought her home. It was a differant time.

  4. After reading, the intelligent words of Val Matthews - I find them very interesting and intriguing. So I am only in my 40's and her insight is awesome. Fascinating and mind boggling. She sees the world differently than most people and to me that is very enjoyable. She could right a fascinating book in my opinion. I would buy it if she ever did. I want to thank you for all you inspirational words.
    Question - is this the small Val Matthews that did a spoken word recording on Rudolph The Rednose Reinder. I think she needs to a spoken word cd. If possible. could I wonder if she could email me @ I would love to her friend.
    Alan Slavicsky

  5. Love reading this, Val. Well said. You sound like a lovely person and interesting too! My son and daughter-in-law went to Law School at UVA around the year 2000 so I was able to get to know your area of the world a little....quite nice! All my best to you.

    Karie Mitchell

  6. Incredibly friendly mailmen. People really are wrapped up in themselves these days. With texting people do not even acknowledge each others physical presence never mind being civil. You have an interesting perspective, would love to see pictures of your work on line. Tanya C Reilly Canada



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