Skip to main content

No more Saturday visits from Bob

By Jay Parini, Special to CNN
February 9, 2013 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Life.com pays tribute to mail carriers, other postal workers and the U.S. Postal Service in earlier times. Here, a rural Vermont mail carrier makes his rounds in subzero weather. Life.com pays tribute to mail carriers, other postal workers and the U.S. Postal Service in earlier times. Here, a rural Vermont mail carrier makes his rounds in subzero weather.
HIDE CAPTION
Classic look at U.S. Postal Service
Classic look at U.S. Postal Service
Classic look at U.S. Postal Service
Classic look at U.S. Postal Service
Classic look at U.S. Postal Service
Classic look at U.S. Postal Service
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Jay Parini lives in small-town Vermont, and says he will miss Saturday mail deliveries
  • Parini: We are losing the joy of saving, re-reading letters from pen-pals, family and friends
  • Telegraph replaced the Pony Express, he says, just as e-mails have replaced mail
  • Parini treasures his letters of favorite writers: Who will publish collections of e-mails?

Editor's note: Jay Parini, a poet and novelist, teaches at Middlebury College in Vermont. His forthcoming book is "Jesus: The Human Face of God."

Weybridge, Vermont (CNN) -- Will I get over the end of Saturday deliveries by the U.S. Postal Service? I'm sure I will. But like countless others in this country, I will miss them.

Living in rural Vermont, in a fairly isolated farmhouse overlooking the Green Mountains, I look forward to the mail, which brings news from relatives and friends, Christmas cards, bills, and -- most of all -- Saturday visits from Bob, who has been arriving at my house for years now, always with good cheer, local gossip and a sense that God's in his heaven and all's well with the world.

I remember as a child looking forward to the arrival of Mr. Mail, as my sister and I called him, on Saturday mornings. He was a dour fellow, but we liked him.

Jay Parini
Jay Parini

We had no school on Saturdays, so all the children got to know him on that day. He was missing a front tooth, so it was probably a good thing that he rarely smiled. When he did, it was an occasion. I loved him, mostly because he brought regular letters from my pen pal in Sweden -- letters with an array of strange, colorful stamps and peculiar tales from abroad.

It was an adjustment when, years later, we had to get used to Miss Fe-Mail, a young woman with masses of blond hair and red lipstick.

The mail has always kept me in touch with the world. As a young man I lived in Scotland for seven years, and loved getting two postal deliveries a day, bringing letters on blue aerograms from home. I would open those fragile blue letters very carefully, so as not to lose words. They were often scribbled in a tiny hand so the author could get as many words as possible within the aerogram's limited boundaries.

Opinion: Goodbye, Postal Service?

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



My Scottish postman's name was Angus, and he told me about his grandfather, who had brought three or four deliveries to every house each day. The mail was like e-mail in those days. If you lived in a city, such as London, you could really send a letter in the morning and expect it to make it across town by the afternoon. Nowadays it can take several days to get a letter from one side of Vermont to another. Sometimes I wonder if we're still using the Pony Express.

As a boy, I read a book about the Pony Express, and had fantasies about joining it. The express started up in the mid-19th century, with relays of postal workers on horseback who would carry letters from Missouri over the Great Plains, through the Rocky Mountains, to California -- and it only took about 10 days. It was the invention of the telegraph that brought this wondrous service to a halt, not unlike the advent of the Internet, which has made the postal service much less relevant to our lives.

E-mails deliver most of our joys and sorrows today, and we conduct routine business in this ephemeral form. Handwritten letters have become precious artifacts. For future biographers, the loss of real letters presents a dilemma. My bookshelf holds volumes of the collected letters of my favorite writers, and I treasure those by John Keats, Lord Byron, Dickens and others. Will anyone ever publish someone's collected e-mails?

How Amazon could save the U.S. Postal Service

Postal Service to end Saturday delivery
Postal carrier saves 91-year-old

So much of our thinking is about loss, and this is one of the losses we must bear. I doubt that we'll ever return to obsessive letter-writing, and don't expect to get many letters from abroad, with brilliantly colored stamps bearing the visage of unknown kings, queens and other eminent people I've never heard of. I wonder if I'll even know the person who brings letters to my house in the years to come.

At least my part of Vermont has Internet access. In the immediate future, the absence of Saturday postal deliveries for rural areas that lack access might have genuine consequences, hurting business and dampening the spirits for people who already feel a bit out of touch.

Everyone would like, I think, to see a robust postal service -- the Post Office represents the nation at home. I still make special trips into town, a drive of several miles, to do "business" at the P.O., where I meet friends to exchange gossip, buy special editions of stamps and, for nostalgic reasons, purchase aerograms to send to friends abroad. The bustling atmosphere is cheery, especially at Christmas, when people wait in line to get their odd-shaped boxes weighed and posted.

Postal Service finances show smaller loss, but still in trouble

The postal service will always be part of our lives, and long may it live. I'm sorry about the loss of Saturdays, which may make me feel a little more isolated on weekends at my hilltop house. But who ever thought the government existed to make us happy?

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Jay Parini.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 27, 2014 -- Updated 1615 GMT (0015 HKT)
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1728 GMT (0128 HKT)
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
July 27, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 2225 GMT (0625 HKT)
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1510 GMT (2310 HKT)
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1533 GMT (2333 HKT)
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1245 GMT (2045 HKT)
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 2205 GMT (0605 HKT)
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT