WEBSTER, Pa. – Box 12 had become an old pal at my post office.
That address delivered both good and bad news and would remain loyal and dependable as years rolled into decades. It became the kind of best friend few would ever want to part with.
“It feels weird to give you this. I mean my family has been using that box for so long,” I said the other day while forever returning the key the Box 12 to the postmaster in my southwestern Pennsylvania village.
I’d carried that key again on my key ring after dad’s heart gave out in 2007 because mom was too weak to pick up her mail until she lost her life in May to cancer and emphysema. Losing that box gave me a sense of finality that was difficult to wrap my head around after having used it off and on for 50 years.
The former Webster Post Office in a tired old clapperboard was retired about 30 years ago, replaced by a tiny redbrick shell of a building without much personality. The old one had a wall of boxes, each opened with combination locks as if they were safes holding precious jewels.
It was where I sobbed privately in the sixth grade after opening a letter informing my parents that I was about to be transferred to another school, yanked away from long familiar classmates.
Later, it would bring gifts of free food samples delivered from big food corporations, thanking me for writing them to endorse their products. It was all part of a silly sibling rivalry to see who could generate the most mail and free stuff.
Box 12 would later deliver my college diploma because I hadn’t attended my winter commencement in 1978 at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
Four years later it’s emptiness would become a reminder that once again my unemployment check was late during a recession in which the national unemployment rate grew higher than it ever did under the one ushered in by President George Bush. The unemployment lines were even longer here as the region’s steel industry collapsed, but we didn’t have 24-hour television news then to constantly remind everyone how bad things were on Wall Street.
I depended on the post office to distribute my resumes, and then Box 12 to deliver the job rejection letters.
Saying goodbye to that box was symbolic of many changes. It reminded me about how little I have been making use of the post office now that bank statements arrive home via the Internet.
It’s become a time when I get most of my news from Twitter, where I learned this week a Google executive I follow there won’t be sending Christmas cards this year to help the environment.
Meanwhile, handing over that key also felt like the final gesture in accepting the fact that this has become the first holiday season without mom, and realizing new traditions should be created.