When I was growing up in Monett, MO in the late fifties, I had a job selling Grit newspapers. I had inherited the route from my cousin, Kyle. He had developed a customer base that covered the entire town, so on Friday after school, I’d get on my bike and start delivering the papers that had been dropped off at my house the previous afternoon by the postman (in those days, there weren’t any female postal carriers in Monett, as far as I know). I had 65 papers to distribute before noon on Saturday, because I had to get to the post office by then and purchase a postal money order to send to the Grit headquarters in Pennsylvania. Usually, in addition to the money order, I’d buy the latest stamps to add to my collection. In 1960, the price of a stamp was four cents and I got a nickel for every newspaper I sold. If I had had a good week collecting from my customers, I might also buy a “plate block” of stamps, a special 4-stamp set that had the number of the plate that was used to print the stamps in the margin. Plate blocks were, and are, a prized specimen for collectors. I recently pulled out the boxes of stamps and my old stamp albums and found that all those plate blocks I bought long ago are missing. Like my coin collection, I probably broke them up and used them on letters when I no longer thought I’d need them.
Because I was in the post office every week, I got to know the clerks and they would occasionally save a nice set of stamps for me, even though there were several other stamp collectors in my town at that time. Some of them were my friends. One of them, Stanley Clark, lived just a few doors down the street. His father owned a second-hand store and every now and then, he would acquire a bunch stamps at an auction or from someone who was selling household items. Stanley and I would pour through those, hoping to find an “inverted Jenny” or a “Penny Black,” both the Holy Grails of stamp collecting. Of course, we never did, but we always knew that one day one would turn up.
The post office and the public library were the two most sacred spaces for me in Monett. Like I said, I visited the one every Saturday, and most Saturdays, I’d stop by the other one on the way home. I’d fill my bicycle basket with books and records, and the stamps I’d purchase. Those experiences gave me a love for reading and an excellent knowledge of geography and history. I learned where Bhutan and Eritrea and Liechtenstein are from my stamp collection. Sadly, many of the countries I liked best then, because of their stamps, no longer exist, or they have changed their names because, happily, they gained their independence from their European colonizers. Ever hear of North Ingermanland or Ponta Delgada? If you are an avid stamp collector, you probably have.
All this is to say that the United States Postal Service was an important part of my life growing up and continues to be so, especially now. Postal workers have been some of the true heroes during this pandemic. We can allow a campaign crony of Donald Trump to destroy it. The post office is essential to democracy. Woody Guthrie knew who to fight against.
SAVE THE POST OFFICE