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Let’s Talk Rural Life Revisited

Rural Life Revisited comes to a close with discussions of Winifred Gallagher’s How the Post Office Created America
Joe Mabel, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
Rural Life Revisited comes to a close with discussions of Winifred Gallagher’s How the Post Office Created America

Hello, Radio Readers. Jane Holwerda here from Dodge City, Kansas. It’s almost the end of our Fall 2022 read, Rural Life Revisited. And of course, we’re gearing up for our on-air program in mid-November to revisit the ways our perceptions of rural life may have been challenged by our conversations about Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg OH, Annie Proulx’s That Old Ace in the Hole, and Winfred Gallagher’s How the Post Office Created America.

Ah, yes. The post office. I think there’s still time for me to get a few words in….yes? Ok then.

Through my adult life, the US Postal Service, also known as the US Mail or Post Office, has been besieged by costs and threatened with extinction. But Gallagher notes that ways to deliver correspondence were priorities for the American colonies. It’s just that as the nation grew so did the challenges and costs of fulfilling the US Mail creed: that “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” The only type of weather, ever, that has pre-empted mail delivery to my home address in Dodge City has been high wind, which, we might note, is NOT included in the creed. Even so, the USPS does get the job done.

It’s been some time since I’ve lived in a neighborhood where mail carriers walk door-to-door delivering mail; more common has been a right-hand drive box truck that shuttles curbside from mailbox to mailbox. The carrier does deposit packages at my door, a service I admit I may take for granted. Other places I’ve lived, carriers left notice, sometimes a sticky note, to inform of pick-up times and dates. I have never minded going to the post office – I especially enjoy visiting those offices established during the early 1900’s, the brick colonials with varnished wood and marble interiors, the clerks behind barred windows, and rows and rows of mail cubbies with key locks, stenciled numerals, and frosted glass.

The solidity, the formality, of these places command my reverence for the work of this most democratic of institutions, with its mission to make the delivery of mail equitable and affordable. The branch offices located in retail outlets might offer ease of access, but I do my best to avoid their streamlined style and self-service inefficiencies. At my local PO, I like choosing the level of delivery service – priority, first class, ground – knowing that my poorly home-taped packages will be reinforced, that I’ll be offered a choice of stamps—flowers, flags or famous faces-- and asked how my day is going. Sure, my local PO is rural, and, you know, we know each other. Because we’re a community. And that matters.

Meanwhile, those others, those deliverers and purveyors in their brown trousers and vans, hustling and busting their gams to drop packages and correspondence at our doors, continue to outpace the USPS. It’s a natural consequence of competition driven by bottom lines. It’s an inevitable consequence of the proliferation of technologies, like email and texts. But what a loss – those letters, those lines, those friendly folks at the PO. And for our rural communities, just one more democratic institution replaced by a transient commercial entity. What will the current postal reform will bring or cut?

We may not have the answers, but we Radio Readers will have plenty to talk about as we wrap-up our Fall 2022 Read: Rural Life Revisited. Mark your calendars for Sunday, November 13, and join us from 6-8pm on High Plains Public Radio, when many of your favorite book-byters go live.

Meanwhile, friends, support your local PO.

For High Plains Public Radio Radio Readers, I’m Jane Holwerda from Dodge City, Kansas.

Fall Read 2022: Rural Life Revisited 2022 Fall ReadHPPR Radio Readers Book Club
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