“Mr. ZIP is on the street,” my husband tells me when he sees the Postal Service truck at the corner. Don adopted that nickname in reference to the character the USPS used to illustrate ZIP codes when we were young.*

He tells me so that I’m warned that mail will be delivered shortly. We have an old-fashioned mail slot in our front door, and after living in this house 26 years, I’m still startled when I hear that metal cover clang. It fascinates our grandchildren, and I save postcards for them to play “mail.” One shoots them into the chute, and the other catches the cards before they hit the floor.

Don knows that I love getting mail and look forward to its arrival. Some of the best surprises appear in a mailbox – catalogs, love letters, coupons, refunds, valentines, newsletters, and holidays cards. I detest Sundays and holidays when mail isn’t delivered. If we don’t get mail on other days, I suspect that the post office is holding back. Since the pandemic, we don’t get as much mail as we did before COVID-19.

Mail has always been important to me. As a writer, I waited for rejection notices, acceptances, contributor’s copies of publications, and checks. Before electronic submissions, I mailed poems and articles to editors. As an artist, I still depend on the mail for checks from clients who don’t trust PayPal or Square payments. I ship many of my paintings by USPS.

Before computers, my friends and I communicated by phone (landlines) and letters. I’ve saved many of those letters, much to their amusement and chagrin. My BFF and I often added drawings (a primitive form of emojis and selfies).

My maternal grandfather was appointed postmaster of New Hampton, Iowa, and served for 25 years, so I may have absorbed his respect for the Postal Service. I had expressed an interest in stamp collecting, and Grandpa sometimes sent me special blocks of stamps.

I’m still fascinated by stamps. I save canceled ones from envelopes to glue onto collages. I know when new stamps will be issued before some postal workers do. I consider stamps miniature works of art and keep a supply of “pretty” ones on hand. Why be boring? If I have to mail something, why not apply a stamp that reflects my interests? Favorites have been a series of poets, John Lennon, modern artists, the 19th Amendment commemorative stamps, and annually, the new heart stamps.

Since the pandemic, I value the Postal Service even more. Most days, mail is our only tangible contact with the outside world. Magazines are treasured. Isolated from loved ones and grandchildren, I still send them cards and postcards. With President Trump’s assault on voting by mail, the post office has been “knee-capped,” in the words of former President Obama. Mailboxes were removed in many “blue” communities, and citizens were warned that the Postal Service was in debt and losing money, even though it’s a service and not a for-profit business.

As a result, many of my social contacts have ordered stamps to support USPS, as I have done. When I go to the post office, I thank the staff who work there cheerfully and conscientiously. In late 2017, our area survived the devastating Thomas Fire and we wore masks outdoors to protect us from smoke and ash. We gave Mr. ZIP a tip and a card thanking him for working through the disaster on our behalf. It’s probably time to show our appreciation again.

And buy more stamps. It’s still a great deal at 55 cents to send something that’s delivered across the country within days.

*The Postal Service implemented ZIP codes (Zoning Improvement Plan) on July 1, 1963.

(photograph by Don Scott)