Column: What if we all mailed a letter today?

06/20/2014 10:00 AM |
The bright portion of this photo of the outside of what is now Claudio's in Greenport shows the antique mailbox the Post Office plans to remove. Southold Historical Society director Geoffrey Fleming estimated the photo was taken sometime around 1915. (Credit: Claudio family archives)

The bright portion of this photo — you can click to enlarge it — of the outside of what is now Claudio’s in Greenport shows the antique mailbox the Post Office plans to remove. (Credit: Claudio family archives)

I have a friend who loves to write letters. Several years ago, he was in the habit of sending me one every day. I wrote him back once.

My friend’s letters were all part of an experiment in which several writers from around the country — he was working as a sports reporter in Seattle at the time — would send each other handwritten musings on journalism and feedback on side projects.

I loved the idea of participating. But I hated the idea of handwriting a letter, stuffing it in an envelope, applying a stamp and dropping it in a mailbox. That’s why my online bills always get paid on time and the ones I have to mail will occasionally arrive late.

When Al Gore invented email and the Internet, he did so in large part so folks like me didn’t have to pay attention to the price of postage. Didn’t he?

Perhaps that’s why reaction to last week’s Suffolk Times story by Paul Squire about the U.S. Postal Service’s plan to remove an antique mailbox from lower Main Street in Greenport caught me a bit by surprise.

What started as a piece about a handful of local business owners upset over plans to replace the box — which needs of a paint job and minor repairs — with a more modern one up the street led to a fairly significant public outcry on our website and social media accounts.

“Are you kidding me?” one reader wrote. “Let’s get rid of a beloved part of Greenport? That sounds like a great idea. Heck, I mean if someone had [to ship a larger] package they could walk to the post office, which is right down the damn street.”

Reader Benja Schwartz suggested that local residents work together to keep the mailbox in place.

“How about a fund to restore the vintage mailbox?” he said. “I will be happy to contribute. If this treasure is cleaned up, repaired and painted blue with white trim it would be even more of an asset to the community.”

That’s a great idea, and one I believe could be done quite easily and for a low cost to contributors.

On the same day our piece about the antique mailbox ran online, I happened upon a short essay another one of my former writing colleagues had posted to Facebook about how fondly she recalls her days of writing to pen pals from all across the country while growing up in a suburb of Philadelphia.

“I remember writing 10-, 20-page missives in which I detailed ghost stories and the best waterfalls to jump in and cancer and heartbreak and life,” she wrote of the letters she’d mail to places like Alaska, Texas and Nebraska. “And now? I dream of writing letters all the time. And so rarely do it.”

Having read Paul’s piece that day, and seeing the comments and suggestions from Benja and others, I got to thinking about letters versus emails. A handwritten letter is one of the most intimate methods of communication. At the newspaper we get letters of praise and criticism every single day. It’s when you receive a note someone penned by hand that these messages pack the most punch. (Though I have to admit that handwritten letters to the editor, which have to be typed up, are a big pain in the butt. No offense, Jack and Leroy.)

What if every person who took the time to post a note on our website about their frustration with the post office’s plans took a few more minutes out of their busy lives to put pen to paper to express their concerns to the powers that be? And what if, instead of dropping the letters off in any old mailbox, they did so at the one in question?

If part of the issue with the mailbox is that it’s so seldom used, let’s change that. Send a letter to USPS consumers affairs manager Cosmo Infantolino at 65 Maxess Road, Melville, NY 11747. Tell him why you’d like to see the antique mailbox stay and ask how you might be able to help keep it in place.

It’s a simple protest — similar to another suggested in a letter in this week’s op-ed section from Claudio’s co-owner Jan Claudio — but one that might effect change if enough people participated. If Mr. Infantolino and the postal powers that be remain unmoved by these concerns, perhaps there’s a way for the mailbox to be designated a historic landmark, albeit the tiniest one around.

While you’re sending your letter this week, drop a bill payment or two into the antique mailbox as well. And maybe it’s time for you to reconnect with that pen pal in Alaska.

Heck, I might even shoot a letter over to my old writing buddy.

So what’s the price of postage these days?

Grant Parpan is the executive editor for Times/Review Newsgroup. He can be reached at 631-354-8046 or [email protected]. You can also mail him a letter at P.O. Box 1500, Mattituck, NY 11952.