Letter from long ago breeds appreciation for postal staff

Posted Dec. 25, 2009, at 4:15 p.m.

My mail carrier recently delivered a large envelope to me, which had been sent by U.S. Priority Mail. Not only did the envelope travel across three states in fewer than 24 hours, but also the massive missive did not bear a stamp.

The wonder of receiving the unstamped envelope so quickly and without penalty made me think the U.S. Postal Service’s unofficial motto surely held true. “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night,” nor even postage due, “stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” And this was during arguably the highest-volume workweek for members of the Postal Service.

Perhaps the heavy pre-Christmas workload explains why the letter got through, despite the postage due. In the ordinary course of things, the piece probably would have been returned to its sender or I might have been asked to pay for the postage upon delivery. Since the envelope arrived without any costs attached, I was given the double boon of receiving my mail without delay and without any cost.

So why do I plan to go to the post office and pay the postage due?

That’s because over a lifetime of letter writing, I have become a staunch fan of the U.S. Postal Service. It all began when I was in the first grade and a letter was delivered to me all the way from Peru. To this day, I remember my mother telling me it had arrived. It was enclosed in a very thin, onion-skin paper envelope, edged with green and red stripes, and ornamented with colorful stamps imprinted with pictures of llamas and the word “PERU” on each.

The return address revealed that it was my parents’ friend Lars Lundell, who had chosen, while he was on assignment as a structural engineer in Peru, to pen a letter to a 6-year-old girl. The letter was replete with descriptions not just of the scene but of the feeling of being in a land far away.

From Mr. Lundell’s words on just two thin sheets of paper, I learned that high altitude can make one breathless, that Peruvians pronounced the word “llama” “yama,” and how the people in the Peruvian mountains dressed in brightly colored, hand-woven clothes, and carried babies in papooses on their backs. I also learned what a token of friendship is, because Mr. Lundell had enclosed in his letter a five-dollar bill and asked me to accept it as such.

The money seemed superfluous, unnecessary. There was magic enough in the unexpected delivery of a whole new world in the thinnest of missives.

I count that letter, and the countless couriers who helped it to make its way from an unimaginably distant land to a little girl on Long Island, N.Y., as one of the greatest gifts of my life. I don’t know what made Mr. Lundell, who had children of his own, take the time to write to me, the daughter of a neighbor. I like to think he knew instinctively that he would set me on the path of becoming someone who, just like him, could not just describe the scene but use words to get at the heart of being there.

Determined to achieve this, I quickly acquired pen pals all over the world. In fact, I have corresponded with a pen pal in New Zealand for 48 years. We have become such confidantes that I count her among my closest friends, even though she lives literally on the other side of the globe.

During my lifelong love affair with letter writing, I have made friends, celebrated romances and learned to describe how it feels to be wherever I am. And as far as I know, not a single personal letter sent by or to me has gone astray.

That is why I will gladly march into my local post office and pay my postage due. Along with the money, I will deliver something else that is the postal workers’ due: my heartfelt gratitude.

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