Saturday 03 Dec 2016

Box 317
AJ Robinson

These days there are many people really down on the Post Office. Between email and other electronic means replacing the need for snail-mail, not to mention politicians wanting to dismantle it altogether, some post offices have closed. This is particularly true in small towns.

More's the pity.

Back some years ago, my family had a mailbox at the Oak Bluffs Post Office on Martha’s Vineyard, Box 317. The place was small and essentially one large L-shaped room. There was a small bulletin board with notices and wanted posters, a machine for dispensing stamps, a couple tables with those chained pens and the counters with the little windows. I generally didn’t have to go up to the windows; that was for General Delivery or to mail or pick up packages and we didn’t get many of those.

For our mail, we went to Box 317. I always thought it looked so neat: little metal door with a tiny window in it, and the small dial for the combination. When I was very young, my mom and I would walk from our cottage to the post office; she’d have me look in the window; it was easier for me to see and she didn’t have to bend over. Then she’d open the box, if we had mail. After that, we might stop at the Old Stone Bakery, right next door, for a donut and milk, or the Corner Store for a candy bar and soda.

Every summer, no matter what, we always had Box 317. I didn’t understand how we could be so lucky as to get the same box. My dad finally explained: he, as did most summer residents, reserved the box during the winter. Here I thought it was us being so very lucky; such a disappointment.

Then came a very big moment in my childhood: I was trusted to go to the post office on my own and get the mail. My mother gave me the combination, and I set off like a knight going on a noble quest. Once at the post office, I checked the box and rewarded, with the sight of letters inside. Now came the all-important part: dialing the right numbers in the correct order.

I felt like a safecracker, and I didn’t even know what that meant!

Slowly, meticulously, I turned it to the first number. Only when it lined up perfectly did I stop, and then turned it toward the next digit. Failure; I was off by a fraction of an inch. I spun the dial as my mom had told me and started over.

It took four tries, but I finally got every single solitary number perfect. I turned the small knob and rewarded, with access to the box. I had mastered Box 317.

After that, getting the mail became one of my regular duties, and, in time, I eased off on being so precise with the combination. In fact, I eventually learned that the enter-the-digits-accurately routine was unnecessary. Our box was a bit old and worn; the locking mechanism was less than perfect. As it turned out, all I had to do was spin the dial to any three random digits, wiggle the knob, and, presto, the door would open.

What a disappointment for me. Yet, it did come in handy; I always had trouble remembering that blasted combination and I got tired of writing it on my arm.

Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.

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