The mail in the mailbox made my day when I was growing up. To a young child, hearing the tinkle of the mailman’s bell was the highlight of the day. Tipping open the mailbox door and sliding out the mail was so pleasurable, as was tearing into the house bearing the assortment of letters and cards that made up the treasure, because that made me the bearer of “good news”, as opposed to being the “woe of the family”.
And I relished that change of name – even if it lasted all of 5 minutes.
Christmas was the best time. I’d hang onto the window, waiting for the mailman’s tinkle, for card after delightful card, the familiar verses and tender Christmas wishes ensconced within. Reading, “To…..and ….. and family”, the word “family” would have me hug myself in delight that someone actually remembered and loved me.
It never occurred to me that it was just a common phrase employed by those who couldn’t remember a couple of kids’ names.
I just felt loved, and came to see letters as just that: sheets scented by love and concern.
I grew up and began to love someone who would become my husband. He lived in a tiny town. To save on phone call costs, I took to writing to him. Lord knows what I wrote, I can be quite the rambler, but every week, I sat at my desk in my rented room, and penned him my love. I’d put the letter in an envelope, and a stamp in place and seal it twice – first with a quick lick, and later, after Marilyn Monroe-ing myself with red lipstick, I’d adorn the envelope with red smooches.
What did you get in the mail today? I’d ask him mischievously over the phone.
He’d chuckle and reply with quiet humour, Kisses in the post.
And I’d hug myself with a child’s delight.
After marriage, the mailbox slowly became less loved as I grew to dread its contents, heralded by the sharp spit of the mailman’s bike horn. My mother, fearing a loosening of her grip on me, kept me anchored to her through daily, hours long calls, and weekly letters.
They were masterpieces of cunning espionage and torment. Enough endearments and praises of my new husband to paper over the hidden knives of ridicule and manipulation. Every time, a letter came, the dreaded handwriting, a pit opened up within me. The contents tarred the hours and days that stretched out ahead of me with hopelessness, shame and of being perceived as a failure.
I struggled with household chores. I struggled with work. I lashed out at my husband and children because every letter underlined and reasserted my failings and failures.
And yet, never did I not read them, because of the fear of the interrogation that would inevitably come in the daily phone calls, Did you get my letter, Did you read it carefully, I underlined some things…. very important in case you missed them…. your faith is very weak, so I wrote that letter to strengthen you…
I’d clench the phone and swallow the black anger.
There was everything in those letters. From false sweetness and concern to curses that contrived to hide themselves behind the word of God.
Then one night the winds died down and watched me as an unseen Hand guided me to the phone, and an unheard Voice put words on my lips.
I called her and told her never to write me again. That I didn’t want her help in finding my way out of the maelstrom of grief.
An unseen being helped me cut one rope that knotted me to darkness.
Years on, the mailbox no longer bears poison missives from a poisoned soul. The fear of its contents has gone.
But so has the allure of anticipation.
I look at my mailbox from afar from time to time, by the gate, sheltered within a pillar, shaded by the evergreen boughs of the fattest conifers. I hear the mailman’s hoot. I watch him from my perch by the door, no movement do I make.
Because now, my children’s feet trace a joyful skip towards the mailbox. Letter, fliers, wedding cards, bills, magazines, all crushed in little fists, as my little ones charge into a home where they are loved and cherished. They are the bearers of news, the joy of our lives. As they watch us rip open envelopes, eyes alight with curiosity and innocence, I’m glad I no longer open letters from home.
So, the allure of the mailbox shines bright for my innocent children, an allure burnished with hope and a sense of mystery.
As it should be.