checking the mail

While it’s sadly disappearing nowadays, checking the mail used to be a pretty titillating experience. After all, you had pen-pals, letters from relatives, brown paper packages tied up with string, maybe even a letter from Ed McMahon himself, letting you know you finally won the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes. Whether you had a mailbox with a flag at the end of a dirt driveway, or a drop slot in the door to your city apartment, or a key to a copper-colored box in the office itself, checking the mail was just plain fun.

In the ’80s, little girls sent SLAMs with their bubble-gum-scented Lisa Frank stationery letters. Remember those? Handmade questionnaires you filled out, then passed along. Once full, they were mailed back to the original maker, and voila! You had a dozen new friends from all over the world.

There are plenty of fun things you can still mail, without even bothering with the packaging. Believe it or not, the post office allows you to affix postage to:

  • coconuts (they’re considered a “self-contained unit”)
  • a potato (because, well, it’s Idaho!)
  • a flip-flop (but you should probably send two)
  • a box of candy that is less than 13 oz.
  • a sombrero
  • a lime (to go with the above sombrero)
  • a rock or brick (though we don’t know why you’d want to)
  • an inflated beach ball
  • a piñata (Fill it with candy first. Best. Birthday. Invite. Ever.)
  • plastic water bottles filled with treats
  • a Frisbee
  • plastic Easter eggs
  • basketballs

But did you know back in the day, as they say, you could even mail your children?? Don’t get too excited, Mommies, it was a short-lived period in history. I guess (we grudgingly admit) it’s not the safest way for little Junior to travel, even if you find yourself tempted after he shaves the dog, smears peanut butter all over his bedspread, and/or pours your salon-brand shampoo down the tub.

According to the Smithsonian Institute, ‘Just a few weeks after Parcel Post began, an Ohio couple named Jesse and Mathilda Beagle “mailed” their 8-month-old son, James, to his grandmother, who lived just a few miles away in Batavia. According to Lynch, Baby James was just shy of the 11-pound weight limit for packages sent via Parcel Post, and his “delivery” cost his parents only 15 cents in postage (although they did insure him for $50). The quirky story soon made newspapers, and for the next several years, similar stories would occasionally surface as other parents followed suit.’

There’s even a famous story of a girl named Charlotte May, in 1914. She was 4 years old, living near our neck of the woods, in Grangeville, Idaho, and her parents mailed her to Gramma, who lived about 73 miles away. With a 53-cent stamp attached to the back of her coat, the good-natured postal clerk wrote her down as “poultry post,” and joked that she was the biggest chick on record. When asked why the odd mode of transportation, the mother replied, “It was cheaper than a train ticket.”

Someone even wrote a book about Charlotte’s trip (she made it safely), and you can find it here. Perfect for the grandchildren in your life, the whole book is made to look like a suitcase that you unfold to read, with the title being framed in postage stamps. Just make sure your little chickadees don’t get any ideas to mail themselves to you!

Maybe we just like our mail in Idaho, because here’s another nostalgic photo, taken this time in Fruitland. Are these little ones checking the mailbox for a letter, a package, or perhaps a returning sibling?

Photo by Dorothea Lange via the Library of Congress.

And let’s not forget how our humble mail service began here in the States. The Pony Express is an intriguing bit of history we can’t set aside, no matter how much we love our e-mail and smart phones. A difficult and dangerous job, the original advertisement looking for Pony Express Riders read like this: “St. Joseph, Missouri, to California in 10 days or less! WANTED: Young, skinny, wiry fellows. NOT over 18. Must be expert riders, willing to risk death daily. ORPHANS PREFERRED.”

Gulp. They were not messin’ around. Here’s a photo of four fearless early Pony Express riders. Either these guys didn’t see the “under 18” request or this was a job that aged you fast!

Photo by Earnest and Elaine Hartnagle via Wikimedia Commons.


Leave a comment 3 Comments

  1. Krista says:

    This is some very cool information. I have joked about mailing my boys, but I never thought it had literally been done. But it has and more than one time too! I love mailing things and getting things in the mail. Just wish it happened more. My oldest loves taking walks to our mailbox and checking to see what we have.

  2. carol branum says:

    bless your heart

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