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Peterson: There goes the neighborhood mailbox

Published: Thursday, July 17, 2014 11:39 p.m. CDT

We went to mail a letter the other day, and the blue mailbox at the corner of Jefferson and Fremont streets in Woodstock was gone.

You could tell by the color of the grass underneath that it had just been removed.

Welcome to the fiscal crisis of the U.S. Postal Service. They are taking away services.

I’m a big fan of the postal service. I don’t know exactly what a first-class stamp costs – I think it’s 49 cents – but it is one of the best buys out there. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as writing a letter, affixing a commemorative stamp, addressing the envelope, and dropping it into the blue mailbox, then waiting for it to be delivered a few days later at a destination somewhere across the United States.

I know the postal service is billions of dollars in debt, and it just can’t seem to dig itself out of the hole. I don’t have answers to that one.

But it disappoints me that the neighborhood mailbox is gone. There goes another convenience.

Neighbors must not have used the mailbox. I mean, who walks to the mailbox anymore? Not when you can put you mail in the box attached to the side of your house, and the letter carrier will pick it up on his or her rounds Monday through Saturday. What could be more convenient than that? Service at your door.

The next closest mailbox is across from Dean Street School, and I haven’t noticed to see if that one has been pulled. And the Dean Street School mailbox nearly saved my life three winters ago during the blizzard of 2011.

I did a stupid thing during that blizzard. I attempted to ride my bike home 2.3 miles from work. Of course, the snow was so deep that I couldn’t ride my bike. I ended up having to drag it through the blinding snowstorm.

And it is a heavy bike.

And it was cold, and windy, and snowing like nothing I had seen in years.

I got to the corner where I was to turn near Dean Street School, but my glasses were crusted over with snow and ice, but I saw the mailbox. And I knew what angle it had to be at for me to make my turn onto Hoy Street. But I couldn’t find Hoy Street.

I couldn’t see the sign, and the streets were shin deep in a blanket of snow. No plows.

But I was able to see the mailbox, and the angle kept getting flatter, and I knew that wasn’t right, even though I was lost and hypothermia was setting in. I wasn’t thinking or seeing as clearly as I should. So I turned around – all because of the mailbox – and luckily I caught the street sign out of a corner of my glasses that weren’t snowed over. I made it home.

But not without the help of the mailbox. I had driven, bicycled and walked by it hundreds of times, and it was like a lighthouse for ships tossed at sea. Although I never had thought about it consciously, I knew what angle the mailbox had to be intuitively. If it hadn’t been there, who knows what would have happened.

I should have written a letter to the post office, commending the placement of the mailbox, explaining how it saved my life. But I didn’t think of it at the time. I took it for granted that the mailbox was as much a part of the neighborhood as the trees in the boulevards, the houses lining the street. But none of them set my internal compass like the mailbox.

And I’m not going to write a letter to the post office complaining about the removal of the mailbox at Jefferson and Fremont. I know what kind of trouble the postal service is in, and if removing the mailbox there makes operations more efficient and cost-effective, all the more power to the post office.

I just wish my neighbors had used the blue mailbox more often. In the hundreds of times I passed that mailbox, I never once saw someone walk over to it to deposit a letter. And these aren’t the kind of mailboxes that you would drive to because you would have to get out of the car, walk across the street and drop your letter in.

If you wanted to drive, you would go the extra couple of blocks to the Square, where the mailboxes are designed to accept mail from the comfort of your car. And you certainly wouldn’t drive across town to the post office, which is located near a very busy intersection, and all the convenience is lost in the trip.

But I will miss the mailbox at the corner of Jefferson and Fremont. It stood duty for decades, now it is retired unceremoniously. Granted, it never saved my life, but it gave me a reason to go for a walk and get some exercise. And that could add years to my life.

• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate. He is a freelance writer and a former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He can be contacted at dickpeterson76@gmail.com.

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