When I taught a course in Southern literature, one of my favorite stories was Eudora Welty’s “Why I live at the P.O,” a comical account told by Sister, whose grandfather, Papa-Daddy, has gotten her a job as postmistress of the smallest post office in Mississippi. Sister is living with Papa-Daddy, her Uncle Rondo, and
Big Mama, when her younger sister, Stella-Rondo, returns home from an apparently failed marriage with a 2-year-old daughter.
The tension in the house becomes so great that Sister moves into the back of the post office, which for her is a world of peace and joy. She loves her customers, chatting and gossiping with them and going beyond the customary service to make sure they receive their letters and packages in good condition as soon as they arrive. With typical Southern woman curiosity, she comments on mysterious-looking pieces of mail or makes an inquisitive comment if the package comes from some exotic location, like New Jersey.
Sister’s always ready to comfort or congratulate if the mail brings bad news or good news.
I’m remembering this old concept of mail delivery because of a recent letter to the editor and because of a conversation with my own mailman, or letter carrier, or mail carrier, or mailperson, whatever is PC.
Although saying “No” on using his name, he’s a friendly fellow, and I often wait at the mailbox when I see his truck just to hear what he thought of my latest column. He’s also a smart guy and is rightly apprehensive about the fate of the United States Postal Service. He referred me to postalmag.com, a website that publishes the news appropriate to postal worker concerns.
One article from Sept. 25, 2012, entitled “Postal service to move closer to insolvency,” states in chilling detail:
"For the time being, the default means little and will have no current effect on the processing or delivery of mail, and employees and suppliers will continue to be paid. But if Congress does nothing, come next spring, the Postal Service will truly start running out of cash. That means the agency may not have enough to pay mail carriers and subcontractors, which could mean drastic cuts to the mail delivery system — postal service Armageddon."
According to my mailman, today’s P.O. isn’t the Americana icon that Sister enjoyed in long-ago Mississippi. I don’t know if it’s still true today that "Neither rain, nor sleet, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” The modern Post Office is a big, top-heavy business, hemorrhaging money at an alarming rate. And apparently, like Social Security, it’s headed over the cliff.
LTC. Ret. Samuel Lombardo of Destin offered a suggestion in a recent letter to The Log. He wrote “I know that most of us complain about junk mail. There seems no end to it. I kept a record of all the mail I have received for the past four weeks. I received 442 pieces, some from organizations and facilities unknown to me, and politicians. Only one or two pieces per week were first class. I do not know how much organizations and facilities are charged. I know most politicians pay nothing.
If they charged politicians something and raised the postage of the other commercial entities a penny or two more, maybe the Post Office could get out of the red.”
Since I keep my trashcan by the mailbox for sorting purposes, I concur. My poor mailman brings me so many junk catalogues and mailings, he has to bind them up with a huge rubber band. Then I toss most of it away without bringing the stuff into the house.
I’d be happy to do without Saturday service if that would save the USPS some money.
Here are some other ideas:
• Relax delivery standards by one day on priority mail, first-class mail and periodicals. Next day service is not that critical and would save $1.5 billion yearly.
• Going to Monday, Wednesday, Friday delivery would allow for substantial savings, cutting vehicle numbers in half, for example.
• Ending door-to-door service is another idea. Postal carriers deliver mail right to the front doors of 35 million American households and businesses. But door- to-door postal services are the most expensive and labor intensive, costing more than $12 billion every year.
• Suspending bonuses for postal executives would save millions.
• Watch the expense accounts. In 2011, $600,000 was wasted in excessive travel and lodging costs.
• Eliminate “standby time,” a practice of paying off-duty employees. In 2010, $22 million was paid out in standby time. It’s equal to having 1,000+ workers on the clock with nothing to do.
Or maybe the postal service could rent out space in the back of its offices for folks who can’t take the stress of dysfunctional family living, just like Sister who loved living at the P.O.
Mary Ready of Destin is a twice-retired English teacher and long-time area resident. Her columns are published on Saturdays.