Hard as it is to believe, there are people living in Santa Rosa who remember when every household had two U.S. Mail deliveries every day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
It's one of those Old Older things, like penny parking meters, kiddie matinees and the downtown merchants who walked home for lunch every day. Mention of any one of these can trigger serious attacks of nostalgia in certain quarters.
So, just wait a week or two, and you can add Saturday mail delivery to your "good old days" list.
What has come to be known as "snail mail" is rapidly becoming what CBS's Charles Osgood has called "a quaint custom."
Certainly this decision on the part of the financially challenged U.S. Postal Service will be an inconvenience. But it also re-opens The Case of the Missing Letters, as Nancy Drew would put it.
Do we really, fully understand what is being lost as this "quaint custom" vanishes?
I hear you when you say, with a shrug, "Who cares? The mail is nothing but junk and bills anyway." And that's my point. It's not the discontinuance of Saturday mail, but the disappearance of the letter.
Letters — real letters that you can hold in your hand, reread until they are tattered, moisten with your tears or crumple up and throw away — have always been our windows into the past.
You want a first-hand account of the impact of the Civil War? Read Abraham Lincoln's famous "Letter to Mrs. Bixby," who lost five sons on the battlefield. The original hangs on the wall of Brasenose College in England's Oxford University as an example of the "purest English."
You want to know what life was like in California's Mother Lode during the Gold Rush? Read "The World Rushed In," J.S. Holliday's compilation of a New York man's letters to his family. A whole book load of first-person history.
Closer to home, we can read a letter from a young man from Kentucky named James W. Jewell, telling his father what it was like to be a squatter in the "Guilico Valey," in 1853. Someone in that Kentucky family had the wisdom to see that the California Historical Society got possession of those letters.
And when that kid brags to his father that he's had to take "medison to move my bowels" because "liveing on nothing but Flower and Coffee will cork a fellow up pretty tite. It would kill any man in the States."
When you read that, you know you've had a glimpse of life in early Sonoma Valley.
The current history exhibit on the Sonoma County Museum's mezzanine is a Smithsonian collection of mail, with some Sonoma County displays interspersed. The emphasis is on military mail, particularly the familiar V-Mail from World War II — and a couple of iconic coconuts with addresses on them, shipped from Pacific isles.
Earlier, during World War I, The Press Democrat printed letters from young Sonoma County men bearing the return addresses "Somewhere in France." They provided the first clue to the folks at home that their boys would return with wide eyes and a much wider view of the world.
"I know it's narrow-minded, " wrote Pvt. Joseph Dearborn, "but their customs are certainly queer — and I think it worth being shot at to see it all."
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