A Love Letter to the Postal Service…

As some of you may know, postal rates are going up at the end of the month — August 29th.

A regular stamp will cost 58 cents, and postcard stamps will go up to 40 cents.

If you are a fan of sending and receiving cards and letters (or you still pay some of your bills by mail…) now is the time to stock up on stamps!

I am a huge fan of stamps AND of the US postal service.

You can click here to see all the stamps currently for sale by the US Post Office online.

I am using some of my recent favorites to illustrate this blog post.

I feel the postal service is one of the things that still connects all of us — and that we all continue to use on a regular basis — regardless of political ideology, religious affiliation, racial ancestry, and socio-economic status (although the rates going up and up and up certainly make it more expensive to use…)

I also like our postal carrier, Rob.

He has been assigned to our neighborhood for the past decade (at least), and his familiar face — and warm personality — weave all of us in this section of East Arlington together on a daily basis.

Mostly what I receive in the mail are bills, credit card statements, requests for money from organizations to which I may have given a tiny amount of money in the past (or from new organizations to whom someone has given or sold my name and address) and advertisements.

On very rare occasions, I get a handwritten — and sometimes even a handcrafted! — card.

And I savor it…

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

I am not sure exactly what makes a hand-written card/note/letter different from an email/text message.

There is the pleasure of seeing a person’s individual, idiosyncratic, and — in a few cases — beautiful handwriting.

I also like knowing that the person who wrote it has touched the same paper and the envelope and the stamp that I am now touching as I rip it open and read it.

And I like seeing what stamp they have selected.

But there is also — for me at least — an element of respect that is somehow implied by the fact that they found the time to find a card (or piece of paper), write something on it, put it into an envelope, address it, stamp it, and get it into the mail.

And then, somewhat magically, it finds its way to me!

I have had jobs which included dropping off mail at both a local office and at a huge regional mail sorting center.

I have seen the people and conveyor belts and sorting machines and wheeled carts and trucks that are responsible for a card or letter or package getting from point A to point B.

It is quite a feat of logistics which most of us take for granted.

And I have never had a card or letter or bill payment (that I know of…) get lost.

On rare occasions I have received something which got a little chewed up en route.

But it was still legible.

In particular I love to send “thank you” cards.

It became a habit when I was given a promotion from part-time events coordinator to full-time PR director (who still coordinated a lot of events) at the Cambridge Center For Adult Education over twenty years ago.

Email was just becoming a regular thing — and hand-written cards were becoming more of a rarity.

Any time a media person included one of our classes or events in a calendar listing, or mentioned us in an article, or interviewed one of our teachers, or mentioned us on the radio, or covered us in any way — I sent them a hand-written “thank you” card.

I wanted to thank them, AND I also wanted to jumpstart (and then nurture) a relationship with them so that when they were next on a deadline and needed some expert to interview for a story, they might be more inclined to think of us as a potential resource.

Or when they had to choose an event to feature in their weekly calendar, they might be a little more likely to select one of our offerings.

Or they might even come and take one of our classes — or attend one of our poetry readings or concerts or workshops.

I was happily surprised (and a little bit embarrassed) to learn, when I attended an annual conference of local black journalists one year, that I had even become slightly infamous when an editor from The Boston Globe referred to me as “the guy who sends all of those ‘thank you’ notes.”

I continue to send “thank you” cards after every one of my gigs to the person who booked us — and sometimes also to the person who welcomed us and made sure we were all set up, too.

And I send “thank you” notes for gifts I receive, to family or friends who feed me dinner or host me on trips, and to local media folks who write about me and my musical life here on planet earth.

I love the cards at Trader Joe’s (only a buck each) and have learned that if I see something I like, I need to buy a bunch of them because I may never see them again for sale.

And every six months or so I go to a local discount department store, TJ Maxx, in a strip mall located a 12-minute bike ride from home.

If I am lucky, they have a bunch of simple, elegant “thank you” cards (in boxes of 12 or 15 or even 20!) at a half or a third of their regular price.

This translates to anywhere from 25 to 50 cents per card.

Then I buy 5-10 boxes of whatever is nicest (because I’ll probably never see any of THEM for sale either) and ride home feeling very rich in ‘thank you” cards.

Same thing for stamps.

If I see some I like, I buy many sheets (or rolls) of that particular design because there is no telling when they will sell out at my local post office — located a four-minute walk from my home.

I guess I could order them online, but I love going to an actual post office and talking with an actual postal employee.

I don’t love putting on two face masks — a medical one and a fabric one — before I go inside, but the more infectious Delta mutation is on the rise even here in relatively well-vaccinated Massachusetts.

So I am using face masks again when I am inside a public space like a post office or grocery store.

Last week when I bought a bunch of stamps, I was the only customer in the post office — which made my visit short and sweet.

I purchased $800 worth of postcard stamps — with a selection of beautiful barns on them — to go along with the 10,000 postcards I ordered earlier this year.

Actually I only ordered 5,000 postcards, but the printer did not understand the four-card template I sent to them and misprinted the first 5,000 (with four small messages rather than one big message on each card).

Then they very generously reprinted them correctly at no extra cost; so I ended up with 10,000 cards total — half of which say “The future belongs to those who vote,” and half of which say the same thing but four times and in much small type.

I mail them — along with a recommended hand-written message — to potential voters all over the USA who have a local election coming up (which they may or may not be aware of…)

It is one of the ways I attempt to ward off my profound disappointment — verging at times on terror — with how political events have been unfolding recently in these not-very-United States.

But this blog post is not intended to be a downer.

The recording I’ve included is a fun take of “Please Mr. Postman” written by Georgia Dobbins, William Garrett, Freddie Gorman, Brian Holland, and Robert Bateman. 

Wikipedia reminded me that it was the debut single by a Motown/Tamla group called The Marvelettes — originally released sixty years ago in August 1961.

Apparently the songwriter credits have varied over time — but the current copyright, I am happy to see, includes Georgia Dobbins, who was the original lead singer for The Marvelettes.

She helped create the first version of the song (which she and her bandmates sang when they auditioned for Motown/Tamla) by adapting a blues written by her friend William Garrett.

Her version was then re-worked by several Motown/Tamla songwriter/producers, including Freddie Gorman — who was also an actual Detroit postman.

I am particularly glad that she is included as a co-songwriter, because Wikipedia reports that Ms. Dobbins left the group soon after they were signed by Berry Gordy and before they recorded “Please Mr. Postman.”

There must be more to THAT story…

The song she helped to write became a hit — crossing the Atlantic to the UK where The Beatles quickly added it into their repertoire and eventually recorded it two years later in 1963.

Another thing I learned is that Marvin Gaye played drums on The Marvelettes’ version!

The Carpenters made it a hit yet again in 1975, and their version was sampled and used in another song called “Oh Yes” by the rapper Juelz Santana in 2006.

It is fascinating to see how songs, like viruses, move from one human host to another and creatively mutate over time…

The version at the beginning of this blog post is from a rehearsal I did a few years ago with the wonderful pianist Doug Hammer and a wonderful singer named Lynn Fischer.

In addition to being a life-long performer, Lynn is also the the executive director and co-artistic director of the Mass Transit Theater company in New York City.

I love the playful and spontaneous spirit of this recording, which I think was take number three during our rehearsal for the opening of an art exhibit called ART/Word which my sweetheart produces each year with a different theme.

The artistic theme that year was “Letters.”

I will end by thanking Lynn Fischer for joining me in our fun rendition of this song.

And thanking Doug Hammer for his gifts as a pianist AND engineer/producer.

And thanking the US postal service for continuing to exist and function!

And thanking the artists who create such an extraordinary variety of artwork for our stamps.

And thanking YOU for reading and listening to yet another one of my blog posts.

Do you still send hand-written cards and letters to anyone?

If you are hungry for more music, you are welcome to listen to my latest release, “The Carter Family” by Carly Simon and Jacob Brackman on a bunch of different digital music platforms.

And you are always welcome to visit my website — or you can find me singing (with Doug Hammer playing his Schimmel grand piano) on SpotifyPandoraApple Music and other digital music platforms.

Let’s continue to find new ways to reduce our carbon footprint on this precious planet each and every day!

There are far too many forest fires and floods and mudslides happening these days…

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out!

50 thoughts on “A Love Letter to the Postal Service…

  1. Oh Will! As soon as I saw the headline of your post, that song Mr. Postman started running through my head. What a wonderful surprise when I played the clip!

    It’s a shame that handwritten letters and notes are a dying art. I admit to sending very few these days. Although the one last thing I am not willing to give up is Christmas cards. I still send many every year but seem to get fewer in return with every passing year.

    • Your musical mind made the association to “Please Mr. Postman” immediately! It is great that people still send Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Solstice cards each winter (although it sounds like your cohort of friends and family who are willing to reciprocate may be dwindling a bit…) It can be a bit discouraging if/when folks don’t reciprocate or share one’s enthusiasm for hand-written correspondence. I probably receive one “thank you” card back for every 10-20 I send out. But that doesn’t stop me from sending out more! The carbon footprint from sending an actual card rather than an email message or text or e-card is probably much higher though. Deep breath in. Deep breath out. I think about all the great ways to reduce one’s carbon/consumption footprint in your blog. — and i am pretty sure that sending cards via snail mail is not one of the options you have highlighted… However, sometimes I have been known to cut a nice card someone sent me in half in order to re-use the cover which had not been written on!

    • Thank you for diving right in and reading/listening to my latest blog post as soon as I published it! They didn’t have all of my current favorite stamps (such as some lovely ones with images of Maine and also the John Lennon ones from a year or two ago) for sale online (which is where I got the images), but they did have some…

  2. As a crafter, who makes handmade greeting cards, I am so pleased to know someone still uses the mail for personal messages. I did buy a roll of stamps when I realized they were going up ,…but wasn’t offered anything other than the good ole American flag. Some stamps really are pretty.

  3. Fantastic blog!!! Love it and will forward it to my friend Iris in SF who still sends letters and postcards AND gifts of stamps to me and Anne each time new designs are released that she thinks we might like (gardens, Marvin Gaye, Gregory Hines, tap dancers, butterflies…). She has done this for years. She will love this blog, I know. ❤

    • What a treat to have a friend who sends you letters and postcards AND new stamp designs!!! I would be honored if you share my blog post with them. Thank you for reading and listening and leaving such an enthusiastic comment!

  4. Thank you for caring so deeply about life, stamps, letters, and connections Will. I admire that you still send hand written notes and cards. I only do a few Christmas cards by hand and most digitally now. Like you, I appreciate receiving one, but apparently not enough to do it myself! I can’t imagine buying 5000 cards and so many stamps. Wow! And thanks for a fun song and backstory about Georgia, Marvin, and your mystery friend. 😍

    • Thanks for reading and listening to yet another one of my blog posts, Brad. And then leaving such a sweet comment. I have a local community of postcard writers (both a smaller circle of three and a larger circle of about thirty) who help to keep my postcard-writing momentum going. It was kind of fun to buy so many cards… and stamps! Now seems like a good time to speak up and be more engaged in our political process given the ever-increasing challenges we human beings face here on planet earth…

  5. Wow.. Will this post made my heart sing I love your rendition of “Mr Postman”.. My mother instilled in us the importance of sending a thank you note..
    Out post being what it here has changed that somewhat for me but I can buy delightful little padded envelopes complete with a delightful picture of a cartoon postie..
    Big enough to hold a small token…
    Maybe a fridge magnet or a lovely handmade trinket, seeds or tea of which we have hundreds..
    Slacked off a tad lately because of the increase in covid and many of our postals services abroad are suspended..
    but they are lined up ready to go… Thank you Will such a lovely post to read 😊

  6. very entertaining and enjoyable post about the United States Postal Service, thank you, WIll. In addition to all that you have written in praise of USPS, we need to be reminded that the United States Postal Service was the first government service provided by our new government. Benjamin Franklin served as the first Postmaster General; this service began even as we were engaged in fighting the Revolution. Very grateful to Ben F. and the many thoughtful framers of the US Constitution, Jeanne Cronin

    • You rock! Thank you for adding some vital historical perspective to my blog post. SOmetimes the comments after a blog post are as good or better than the post itself. ps: Conrad must be BIG these days!!!

  7. Will, you managed to carry the lovely but too rarely applied tone of the personal note into this entire post: I felt as though I was sitting with a longtime friend having coffee and discussing these diverse topics.

    And I agree: the post office is such a vital part of American life. I’m glad you emphasized the positive, but what an outrage to see it weaponized as it was by the former guy and his crony, whose stay will I hope be soon ending! Loved seeing all the images.

    I enjoyed your lyrical piece—as always—and look forward to visiting the other links later today.

  8. Thank you, Annie! I was slightly inspired by your recent upbeat blog post to do something relatively upbeat, too. Because of the ability to contribute comments, our WordPress community can become very similar to a network of friends writing notes to each other every now and then…

  9. Marvin Gaye played the drums on the Marvelettes’ version? OMG! That’s the music lover in me. The most important thing is the thank you notes. You know that I have children write and decorate a big thank you note whenever something important happens. On a personal side, I still send hand written thank you notes. My mother told me to always write them in black ink, not blue. That is ingrained in me. While the writing of thank you notes is a wonderful thing, receiving one is wonderful times ten. That’s why I keep writing. I must pay more attention to the stamps. I love the barns!

    • Hurrah that you plant the seed/germ/concept of writing thank you notes with the children who are blessed to be in your class! Writing a thank you note gives one the possibility of reflecting upon the past with a (hopefully) happy/grateful mindset. And I have long since learned not to expect anyone else to write them (or reciprocate in any way). I did, however, recently experience the treat of a cousin sending ME a thank you note in response to a thank you note I sent her (about her having attended a summer performance I did in upstate NY). She was so surprised and happy to get my note that she wanted to return the favor/pleasure to me. Very sweet! Regarding Marvin Gaye, Wikipedia says something (if I am remembering correctly) about how he had released a song or an album that hadn’t done well earlier that year; so he had pitched in as a session musician for a while. Sounds like the vibe at Motown/Tamla was quite collaborative at times! I don’t think I own any blue ink pens; so I am safe regarding your mother’s guidelines for letter writing. Any idea why black was better than blue?

      • Oh, Will… writing thank you letters turned into the biggest moments in my classroom this past year. I use big card stock chart paper, which is about the size of our classroom table. Children dictate the words, and they watch me write their words. Then, they decorate the thank you letter. When we watched the Boston Dynamics robots dancing to “Do You Love Me?” (yes, Jennie the Motown lover was flipping out), children loved it. So, we wrote a thank you letter to Boston Dynamics. They wrote back!! The engineers wanted to Zoom with the children and show them robots. OMG! All because of writing a thank you letter.

        We wrote to Queen Elizabeth and she answered! We learned all about her pipers. What a treat for the children.

        I will always champion for handwritten thank you notes/letters!

        Like you, I don’t expect people to reciprocate, yet they often do. At the very least, that handwritten note meant a great deal to the recipient. That’s enough for me to feel very good. Why black ink? My mother told me it was proper. Blue was considered too casual, tacky.

        Thanks for telling me more about Marvin Gaye and Motown at the time. Music is, well, everything.

      • It’s odd to write to someone whom I have never met in person that I love them. But I love you, Jennie! You give so much optimism and hope to so many of us who read your blog, who learn in your classrooms, who have family members in your classroom, etc. etc. etc. THANK YOU! May your ripples spread and spread and spread!

      • Awww… that is so kind of you to say, Will. Thank you! I will try to keep spreading those ripples. 🥰 Everyone should have a friend like you.

  10. I was hoping for this song when I saw the title of your post. Love this rendition! And the woman’s voice carries it so beautifully, hope she will come forward to be recognized. I will play it again after I write this. I must admit I have moved to digital communications except for an occasional thank you note, although I seldom receive them, especially (unfortunately) from the younger contingent in my family. I did get a phone call to say thank you when they were little, which I appreciated. My post office box is full of junk mail. But I do love the stamps and will buy some before they go up. You must have an amazing collection!

  11. Thank you for finding time to read and listen — and then write such a lovely comment! I DO have a somewhat diverse, motley and historic collection of stamps. I am glad that the Postal Service decided to do the “forever” option so that one doesn’t feel the pinch of the increases for a while (if one has a stash of old stamps…) Pausing to write a thank you note/card takes time, and our culture seems determined to SPEED everything up! Doing things faster and more efficiently (which is often an economic goal) is not necessarily a plus when it comes to interpersonal relationships. I think there is even a case to be made that doing things faster and more efficiently — especially when it means that folks are skipping needed bathroom breaks and jeopardizing their health in order to remain employed or worse yet are being replaced by robot technologies — is not a great idea in the business world either. I have learned that one has to send thank you notes with no attachment to any sort of reciprocity… However, it IS a great treat to find something in one’s post office box other than junk mail, isn’t it!

  12. Very interesting post. Love the song… Hey, Mr. Postman. Took me right back to the original. I guess stamps like everything else have gone up in this past year. Hand written notes are collectors items these days. My wife loves doing hand made embellishments on cards for family and friends for birthdays etc. The downside to social media is really a paradox in some ways. It has made us less socially friendly in real time. Heads in the iPhone, kids playing video games on their phones instead of talking with you, ear buds blocking out any chance of saying hello to someone… very sad indeed. And then there are the dark tinted windows that keep people from waving as they go by! Seems like all changes are a trade off!

    • Yes, indeed. I do not have a cell phone and am regularly reminded of how un-present folks (talking to someone else as they do their grocery shopping, for example) often are in a public setting. No opportunities for a friendly “hello” or even eye contact with them. Yes, life is full of trade offs… Your wife and I will keep writing/sending personalized cards, however!!!

  13. Will – Wonderful post, as usual.

    Jack and I would like to send you a postcard from a mystery location. Please provide your mailing address via my email address. Thank you.

  14. Oh my goodness, Will, you and the mystery woman are rockin’! And Doug Hammer is, too. I am the honored to be the privileged recipient of some of Will’s beautiful cards. When I receive them in the mail, I see his familiar handwriting, and there is always a personal message to ME! And it always makes me feel better, always makes me feel better.

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