Archive for Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Arrival of the mail was a special occasion

February 6, 2008

When I was a youngster on a western Kansas farm, the high point of the day was usually the arrival of the mail. We didn't have television and we were a long way from stores.

Since my parents subscribed to the "Hutchinson Herald," news came at noon usually. My father didn't read the newspaper with breakfast, but with dinner (which was for us at noon). My father grew up in Hutchinson and kept his ties to that city with its newspaper. The "Hutchinson Herald" wasn't just hometown news, however. It was a daily and had a Sunday edition which we received on Monday.

It was an important tie to the larger world. My father studied carefully the agricultural news and the prices of livestock and grain. If we children were lucky, he read the funny papers to us. Newspapers were important to us as was all the rest of the stuff delivered by our mailman.

It wasn't until I was in college that I truly began to realize how unusual the remoteness of our living situation was in regard to that experienced by most other people. My roommate was bemused by our postal address, which was North Star Route, Rolla, Kansas.

Because few people lived on the remote farms that made up that part of the state, our mailman knew where each of us lived. He delivered the mail in a truly reliable way. I can't remember many times when we didn't get our mail. The county road graders usually got out to plow the roads promptly, and our mailman wasn't far behind. Since our mailbox was several miles from our house, we couldn't get there either if the road was too packed with snow.

When I rode with my mother or father to get the mail, we looked to see the position of the metal flag attached to the box. If we left a letter to be mailed, the flag was brought to a 90-degree angle from the mailbox itself. If my parents had received a gift or had ordered something too large to be placed in the box, it would be sitting beside the post holding up the mailbox. Theft from mailboxes was not a problem in that remote area.

Sometimes, my parents had ordered an item too large and too delicate for the regular mail delivery man to bring, so after he left a notice or the Rolla depot master called, we made a trip to Rolla which was a good 30 miles or so away. I was always intrigued by the stationmaster's name - Mr. Hogg. He didn't look porcine but was always helpful and smiling as he helped load our order which were sometimes baby chickens or geese or ducklings into our station wagon. As a matter of fact, there wasn't much my parents couldn't order and have delivered either to our mailbox or to the depot in Rolla.

The mail and the railroad system were intertwined. After the Civil War was over and the railway system had crossed the state, many settlers found living on the remote plains possible because they could get many items necessary to their lives via the railroad. Trains delivered passengers to their destinies but almost more importantly, they brought machines and raw materials to those living far from centers of industry. They also delivered raw materials such as cattle and wheat and maize to markets. The speed, efficiency and power of the "iron horses" and the U.S. Postal Service were essential to our state's and its residents' economy.

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