Sunday, July 21, 2013

Getting Mail Sure Ain't What It Used To Be!

Growing up on the farm, mail was delivered three days a week - Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The mailbox was about a 1/4 mile down the road from the end of our lane - where two gravel country roads intersected. A nice walk almost any time of year and a short bike ride if there wasn't snow or mud.

It was a simple metal box on a wooden pole. The box was just far enough off the road that it wouldn't (usually) get hit by a vehicle but close enough that the mailman could pull onto the shoulder and put the mail in it without getting out of his vehicle. The box never had a lock on it. If the door was open, there wasn't any mail. If it was shut then there was mail inside. The boxes were occasionally used for target practice but I don't remember any damaged contents. If the wind was just right in winter, snow could fill an open box! In spring, you'd often find the beginnings of birds' nests inside. To prevent a full blown nest, it was wise to check and clear the box even on non delivery days. At Halloween, we'd remove the box and return it the following morning to prevent any tampering or thievery. Neighbours or friends passing by, would sometimes leave messages for each other if they didn't have time to stop by or if they didn't want to spend the money on a stamp to deliver a card!

In short, you never knew just what you might find inside that box!

If we were in town, we could stop at the post office to pick up a package that was too big for the box (usually a mail order from Eaton's or Sear's) or to see if there was anything else, but generally there was nothing that important that it couldn't wait a few days. Those living in town, had box numbers and could check their mail every day if they wanted.

We had the same mailman for many years. He knew everyone on the routes and all the kids names as well. If you happened to be waiting at the box or walking down the road as he came along his route, he'd often take a few minutes for a short chat!

There was an understanding between him and the people on his routes. We could leave letters to be mailed with a few coins taped to the envelope and he'd see that it got mailed for us. If there was any change due, it would be in our box the next delivery day. If a letter was sent postage due, he'd still deliver it, but add an envelope for us to put the needed funds in to cover it. We'd leave the funds for him to collect on his next day.

Occasionally, if he had the time, he'd actually bring packages that looked fragile or that may freeze right to our house rather than leave them to the elements or haul it back to the town post office.

Our mailman eventually retired. Things were also slowly starting to change thanks to decrees from higher ups in the postal service.

I think it was sometime during the early 1990's the rural mail started getting delivered Monday through Friday. Seemed odd to my folks, considering that they didn't get a lot of mail and that postal rates kept going up. In more recent years, the box has also been moved to the end of the farm lane and now has a box and route number on it rather than a name.

Over the last few decades, all of our mailboxes have gotten less and less use. Cheques and bills are mostly paid through direct deposit or at the bank. Letters and cards have been replaced by emails or a phone call. The mostly unwanted paper flyers are about the only things found in our boxes.

Times have certainly changed! A lot of postal services have now been eliminated, automated or are handled on line. Personal service has decreased, yet rates continue to rise.

I recently received not one - but TWO envelopes from Canada Post. They arrived about three weeks apart. Both had my address, but rather than my name, it said "dear resident". The contents? An 8 1/2" X 11" page with English on one side and French on the reverse. The purpose? They were worded slightly differently but both had the same purpose. Just to let us customers know about their "mail hold" services in the event we might be away for awhile!
Yup, Canada Post has resorted to writing its own letters so the carriers still have something to put in our boxes. Not to mention the cost and waste of paper used to print, process and deliver in windowed envelopes! Okay, so the envelopes were made with recycled paper, but in my opinion, this was a HUGE waste of resources and finances! An addressed letter does tend to get a bit more attention from a customer, but if they had to tell us about this program - or any others - a promotional card would have been cheaper and used a lot less paper! 

At the same time, Postal Services here in Canada, the USA and other countries are crying poverty and huge losses thanks to decreases in letter volume. 

Postal services are contemplating ways to save some money - including reducing delivery service to three days/week.

Businesses are crying foul. They still use flyers to keep customers coming and spending money. Charities do a lot of their work through the mail. Consumers aren't thrilled either. They all want daily delivery even if it means only getting junk mail! Everyone seems to want to keep the status quo but no one wants to foot the bill for it! We've pretty much all been spoiled by the speed and availability of the internet to rely on what was the good old days of the pony express.

I rarely use snail mail anymore. Finances are done through direct deposit, preauthorized payments, plastic and cash. Most letters are done via email. Aside from a few birthday cards to relatives who don't have email or an occasional sympathy card, I rarely mail a letter. I still get a couple of newsletters and a magazine but those could be switched to online versions if I choose. Other than that, about the only things I get in the mail are packages - things I've ordered from The Shopping Channel or Amazon.

There are other options for letter and package delivery, but most still rely on Canada Post rather than pay a premium to use one of the express carriers. We want our mail services in a timely, efficient and cost saving manner.

The good old days of mail delivery are long gone. I'm not holding my breath that a more efficient service will come along any time soon.

I'll check my little cubbyhole mailbox with its own lock a few times a week. I won't find snow, or makings of a bird nest. I won't find an unstamped message from a friend or neighbour. There will be a few flyers and an occasional bill, letter or notice that I have a package to pick up.

For the most part, my mailbox, like many in this modern technological society, will be empty. Sitting there wondering what purpose it really serves. Wondering if the stories of its ancestral mailboxes frequently being filled to overflowing with all kinds of items were really true or if it is just folklore....


Sunday, July 7, 2013


Writing that story, got me thinking of how our parents, grandparents and ancestors kept their clothes and linens clean. We've come a long way from rubbing our clothes on rocks by a river or over a washboard in a bucket. Before the more readily available modern methods of laundry, some cultures only did laundry a couple times a year! Yikes!

From my own childhood, I have vague recollections of my mom and my big sister using the old style wringer washing machine and them warning me not to get to close. I never really wanted to get close to that thing! To a small child, it was noisy and looked really big and scary as the wet fabric was pressed through the rolling pin like cylinders, squishing out the excess water. I avoided it whenever I could! However, it was located in a small area just off the kitchen - on the way to the bathroom. So, if you had to go while laundry was being done, then you didn't have much of a choice!  

After that old machine wore out, mom went through several models of washers over the years.

The machines have changed greatly over the decades, but they got the job done!

One of the washers that she had, worked great for a number of years, but eventually it started to act up a bit. The problem, was that the water wouldn't automatically fill to the water line. Dad tried to fix it himself a few times. but no such luck. Rather than haul it into a repair shop or have a guy come all the way out to the farm to fix it (and charge extra for the mileage and service call), they opted to just have a 2 1/2 gallon pail sitting nearby. Whenever they threw in a load, they'd just fill up the pail with water from the kitchen sink and then pour it into the washer when it automatically stopped! It wasn't an overly convenient solution as this had to be done for the wash and rinse cycles, but it did save some money and they joked that this was like doing weight lifting! That misbehaving machine was eventually replaced with a more reliable one!

I can only recall a handful of times that we had to use the Laundromat in town. That usually only happened if the washer was broken or the power was out at the farm and we were quite low on clean clothes. About the only other times were, if we hadn't been able to haul water for the cistern for some reason - such as the big truck that the water tank was loaded onto, was being used for harvest or if the ground was too wet (thanks to heavy rains or flooding) to back the heavy truck and tank up to the cistern. I don't recall when they finally started getting piped in water out on the farm, but it was long after I left home!

Whenever possible, mom did laundry on days that the clothes could be hung out to dry on the clothesline behind the house. With a nice breeze, they'd be dry in no time - and the scent of the fresh air lingered in the laundry! If it started to rain or a dusty wind came up before things were dry, there was a mad dash to get all the clothes off the line!  When the weather didn't cooperate or when the snow was too deep to get to the line, she'd use a couple of wooden clothes racks. If it wasn't raining or dusty - but just cold - she'd set the racks out on the back step or in our old unheated porch. The clothes would freeze dry. Then she'd move the racks into the kitchen or the living room and let them stand overnight to thaw and finish drying. She eventually got a dryer but still hung the clothes out whenever she could.

Back in the day, she used to iron pretty much everything - including the sheets! I also recall a pre-dryer incident where she inadvertently ironed creases into the front of the blue jeans! She'd been busy ironing all the dress pants and just kept going when she got to the jeans. We kids were NOT impressed!  With the introduction of perma-press and other wrinkle resistance fabrics, the iron wasn't used nearly as much in later years.

I don't recall how old I was when I started doing my own laundry, but I do remember helping hang, take the clothes off the line/rack and folding. Try as I might, I never did get the hang of ironing, so still avoid it whenever possible! I do own an iron but only pull it out if I absolutely have to! I don't even own an ironing board - not even a mini one. If something really needs an iron intervention, then I lay a thick towel on the kitchen counter and go from there! I'll gladly barter baking for ironing!

Since moving away from home, I've pretty much relied on the laundry facilities in the buildings I've lived in - or in a couple situations, a laundromat a couple blocks away. Of course, like most adult children, I was also known to haul my dirty laundry home on weekends! I still had to do it myself, but at least I didn't have to pay to use the machines!

Back around 1991, a building I lived in, installed some of the first front load washers. They were incredibly loud! Unfortunately for me, I was living in the apartment next to the laundry room on my floor and the thing sounded like a plane landing beside you! I had to turn up the radio/TV while it was running and wasn't getting much sleep when night owls decided to do laundry! I petitioned management and the tenants association to limit the hours so no one could do laundry in the overnight hours! They eventually agreed, but I also applied for and got a different apartment in the block!

Given my past experience with the front loaders, and even though I currently live several floors from the laundry room in my building, I wasn't looking forward to using the new washers that were installed a couple of years ago. Thankfully, the years have improved the technology greatly. All five washers running at the same time are quieter than the one of twenty years ago! You can actually carry on a conversation in the same room!

I still don't enjoy doing laundry, but it is one of those necessary things in life. So with that being said, best I take yet another load down to the laundry room. Apparently it isn't willing to go get in the washer and then the dryer by itself!