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  Texas : Features : Columns : "It's All Trew"

Mailbox was
rural portal to outside world

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew
Another country icon requiring mention is the old-time rural mailbox. The repository of news, letters from loved ones, the month's show calendar, and the "wish books" of Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward brought the outside world to our doorstep.

No matter if you had never been out of the county, missives arriving in the mailbox kept everyone informed of world events. For as little as three cents, a letter could bring you up to date or tell your friends the latest news in your own family. The location didn't matter, it all cost the same. Only a few cents more sent a package to loved ones. War veterans say a package from home kept them going through many difficult and dangerous times.Homesick students took heart and inspiration from a package from home, especially if it contained a check for incidentals.

The most wonderful part of this service was that the mail came the same whether you were rich or poor, or whether you had a gold-embossed mailbox or a rusty bucket nailed to a crooked gatepost along the route. The mail carrier treated everyone the same.

Though protected by the mighty U.S. government, mailboxes were the target of many a wayward bullet, and few boxes escaped perforation after being installed.

As a little boy, and proud owner of a Daisy BB gun, the little red flag raised to signal a letter inside became an enticing target.

The box might be aerated, but I never remember one being robbed. Just leave your money for stamps or postage, and the carrier left the proper change and your request. I knew of one bootlegger who made a regular route each week leaving a pint in certain mailboxes.

Once the Great Depression and Dust Bowl cleared out and country people finally had some disposable money, the U.S. Mail became more important as millions of items were ordered from Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward mail-order services. The promise of "satisfaction guaranteed" and "next-day shipment" drew orders from every corner of the back country.

This sometimes caused problems when packages were too large for the mailbox. The dilemma was solved the old-fashioned way by attaching a 30- or 55-gallon barrel below the regular box for big packages. Some had hinged doors with hooks. Others were just a gaping hole in which to place the large items. Yes, the barrels soon had bullet holes also.

Today's mailboxes have become a popular art medium. Many owners illustrate and advertise their business, hobby, or livestock breed by displaying something depicting their trade. The progression of mailboxes through the years would be an interesting display in a museum.

Although modern-day mailbox designs appeal to many travelers, I still tend to favor the rusty, bent-up, much-perforated receptacles tied to a post with baling wire, with a rusty barrel below. Each time I see one, I recall the anticipation of a little boy of going to fetch the mail each day and taking a potshot at the red flag along the way. And there was always a chance one of the letters just might have your name in the address.
Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew" March 3, 2004 column
 
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