Michael Gallagher

Michael Gallagher

It was kind of a cute moment. Actually, it was a moment only a parent would call cute, others might cite it as a sign of the decline of Western Civilization.

Coming home last week, I checked our mailbox to discover it packed with envelopes returned for inadequate postage.

I carried them into the house and asked Aidan, “What’s the difference between email and U.S. mail?”

Since Aidan graduated from high school he’s refused to answer any of my questions so I replied, “A stamp. You need to put stamps on the mail.”

Aidan’s first batch of thank you cards for his graduation gifts were all returned for lacking stamps. He insisted he knew that letters required stamps, he just assumed one of his parents performed that rudimentary task. His assumption that his parents would do the grunt work required in any endeavor was entirely believable so I cut him some slack.

The fact is, though, young people do not have much experience with the U.S. Postal Service, mail delivery or postage.

The situation provided a priceless opportunity for a “back in the day” moment where I explained that when I was as kid, not only did letters require stamps, but that you had to lick the stamps, as well as the envelope. So in addition to your friends, grandparents, aunts and uncles getting cards expressing your heart-felt thanks for whatever amount of cash they forked over, they were getting a saliva sample as well. If I’d known how far DNA testing would advance in the coming years, I’d had my dog lick all my stamps.

I am the first to admit I have many failings, but throughout my life I have been a staunch defender of the U.S. Postal Service. Of course, today people consider a mailed letter an irrelevant relic what with the ability to send an email or text at any given moment conveying even the most unformed thoughts. It is so free and easy, at least if you pay no attention at all to your Internet service bill.

But for a mere 55 cents a person will hand deliver what you’ve written to another person anywhere in the country. They won’t open the letter and share it with random households along the route. It is a message as secure as licked spit.

In my youth I was an obsessive letter writer — at my peak I wrote 150 to 200 letters a year. If I thought of something to say to a friend, I just wrote it down and mailed it off. I did so mainly because I felt the best version of me was in writing — awkward silences on the phone are truly awkward and I’ve always felt it best to limit my personal appearances. Sealing the envelope and sticking on the stamp was all part of the ritual.

I probably send 100 texts and emails a week, but it is nowhere near the same experience. There’s no ritual, no magic, no lingering odd taste on the tongue.

Alas, there’s no going back. That’s just not the way civilization works. I can wax all I want on the tactile glory of pounding out stories on my 1936 portable Underwood typewriter, but it has no role or way to connect to our contemporary communication system.

I think that when Aidan’s first born graduates from high school and faces the task of sending thank you letters to relatives he’d never be able to pick out of a lineup, Aidan will share his story about how he forgot to put stamps on his thank you cards and his kid will have absolutely no idea what he is talking about.

Things always change but somethings remain the same.

Contact managing editor Michael Gallagher at mgallagher@kvnews.com.


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