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Big Chuck

December 20, 2010

I Was Just Thinking: Letters still good way to send very best

I recently received a very nice letter from a very old friend of mine.

His name is William K. Davis. Long before Bill became one of the icons of the automobile industry in our region, he was just a friendly guy on my paper route when I was a kid. Bill and Alma Davis went to school with my parents in the 1940s, so I guess I've known him almost my whole life.

His letter was a cheerful welcome that day. But the contents of the letter, while fond and witty, were not the reason I was so taken to find it in my mailbox. It dawned on me.

I don't think I have received a handwritten letter in the mail in years.

Bill's letter was a classic from the "old school" mode of communication. His stationery letterhead was stylish and understated, much like the man himself. His handwriting was the florid kind, like you would find in a note from your grandfather. The salutations were in the proper place; the date was written out, not abbreviated; and his spelling and punctuation was precise.

It's too bad more people don't write letters like that anymore. Perhaps it's just too easy, what with e-mail, Skype, Twitter and all the other nonsensically named means of talking to each other.

I, for one, still think mailing a letter is one of the best deals around.

I probably wrote and mailed my first letter in 1967, from college. It was probably to my parents, and it was probably asking for money. The stamp cost me 6 cents. I knew it got there because a money order arrived at my college residence a week later. Not a bad turnaround for a total of 12 cents, especially to an eager college freshman desperate for a couple of bucks to go out to happy hour with his buddies.

In 1982, I sent out birth announcements sharing the arrival of my first child, Frances. The stamp then cost 20 cents. Katie, four years later, set me back 22 cents. But with the return of baby clothes, car seats and U.S. Savings bonds, well, the 20- and 22-cent investments were well worth it.

Today, my daughters live in California and South Carolina. Although they use the more "techie" means of contacting the Old Man (usually asking for money, as I did in 1967), I still rely on the mail to get the resources to them. Call me an anomaly, but I have never had a single piece of mail go wandering off on its own never to be seen again. And all of this for 44 cents. And the mail usually gets to the West Coast and to the South in three days. Amazing.

I realize that we always hear stories about the post office operating in a hole so deep (millions? trillions? gazillions in debt?) that service curtailments are imminent. But for me to send an envelope from Oneonta to Los Angeles and have it arrive safe and sound (as it always does) in three days still leaves me in awe.

I probably go to the post office more than the average person. In fact, I go daily. Always with books to mail, bills to pay and letters to send. And sure, it can be a daunting task. I go to the main office in Oneonta. Traffic around it is as tricky as trying to navigate the unlined road lanes around the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

The wait can be maddening, especially around this time of the year. We stoically endure the ritualistic questioning ("Would you like post box information? Anything deadly in your package?"). Still, that is how a bureaucracy works -- a massive labyrinthine government bureaucracy, which the post office epitomizes.

I must say, I am totally impressed with the care and professionalism of the folks on the front line, however. They withstand our queries about packaging materials, flower stamps and "can I borrow your tape" with nary a grudge.

For me, seeing Colleen, Sandy, Tyler, Laura or Ed every day is as comfortable as seeing my neighbors or my radio listeners. I give them my letters, they smile, and then whatever happens magically behind that big gray wall begins to come to life. And somehow, usually within three days, I get a call from one of my daughters saying: "Thanks, Dad. The money came today."

And they do it all for just 44 cents!

Well, for right now, anyway.

I'll catch you in two. …

'Big Chuck' D'Imperio can be heard on weekdays beginning at 6 a.m. on WDOS-AM 730 in Oneonta, and also on Thursday nights from 7-9 p.m. on WSRK-FM 103.9 for his "Oldies Jukebox Show." You can find "Big Chuck" on Facebook under Upstate New York Books. He invites you to contact him at wdosbigchuck@aol.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/bigchuck.

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