WOSTER: When Christmas came in the mailMy dad would climb out of the pickup, lift each package into the box and speed home. Somehow, those deliveries disappeared as soon as my mom touched them, not to be seen again until Christmas Eve.
By: Terry Woster, The Daily Republic
The other evening when I got home from work, I saw three cardboard boxes stacked on the front porch.
It reminded me of times on the farm when the mail carrier delivered Christmas. We ordered some of our special stuff then. We didn’t get to town all that often. We bought what we could in Reliance, eight miles away, and other stuff in Chamberlain, which was not a spur-of-the-moment trip. For major needs, we had Mitchell and Pierre.
Mitchell and Pierre were about the same distance from our farm. If a trip to Chamberlain required thought, a visit to Mitchell or Pierre was planned as carefully as a vacation to one of those destination resorts I read about these days in other people’s Christmas letters. From north of Reliance, a person didn’t just hop in the car and speed off to Mitchell. You had to know exactly what you wanted, where you’d go when the stores opened and when you’d be back on the road. Lunch was optional. A stop at the amazing donut shop on a downtown corner was mandatory.
My family gravitated toward Mitchell for some reason, while my uncle’s family often shopped and doctored (yes, “doctor” was a verb in those long-ago days. People doctored, just as they neighbored) in Pierre. I never knew why we split directions like that. I only know I grew up knowing Mitchell much better than Pierre. That was handy, because The Daily Republic was the only newspaper we could get delivered to the farm just one day after publication. Might as well be familiar with the city you read about every day — a day late.
The newspaper came to our mailbox the same way the mail-order stuff from Sears, Roebuck and Montgomery Ward and Co. did, although far more often. Most of the year, the newspaper was about all that did come to that mailbox a mile or so north of our farm at an intersection where the east-west road crossed the north-south road and became a rutted section line. An actual letter was a very big deal. We didn’t see many of them. It was mostly the paper, and only around Christmastime did the packages began to appear.
Sometimes I’d ride up to the mailbox with my dad. From a couple of hundred yards away, I could see packages piled around the base of the mailbox. It was about as exciting as having a new calf’s mom refuse to let it nurse, which meant we had to bring the shaky little critter into the back porch and feed it from a bottle. Like Christmas, that only happened once a year, usually in late March during the last bad snowstorm. Keeping a calf on the porch was an exciting adventure for me and my siblings.
Christmas at the mailbox was an equally exciting adventure. My dad would climb out of the pickup, lift each package into the box and speed home. Somehow, those deliveries disappeared as soon as my mom touched them, not to be seen again until Christmas Eve.
I thought about those packages a lot between their arrival and Christmas. Wondering what could be inside each package, trying to find the answer to that question in the size and shape, kept me occupied for days. It was a time of imagination, when programs on old-time radio (The Shadow, Grand Central Station, The Lone Ranger and the rest) were as real as anything on the clearest, highest-definition, big-screen television today. I honed my imagination on old-time radio, and I had some wild ideas what might be in those packages from the mailbox.
The Internet is the equivalent of mail-order, I guess. Nancy and I don’t shop that way too much. She doesn’t because she finds most stuff she wants around town. I don’t because I hate to shop, even from a smartphone (yeah, like I’d ever own one of those).
Packages on the porch are a surprise these days, even if I don’t spend much time imagining what they could contain. I just haul them in for Nancy to inspect later.
Come to think of it, I don’t listen to much old-time radio, either.