First-Class Mailings


A couple years ago I picked up a National Parks Passport Book, which is much like my coin collection in that it’s another thing in which I can put other things, until such time as I either lose the Book, or until I die and the executor of my estate finally throws it out. Unlike the coins, this one collects stamps, some of them the kind you lick, others the kind you just rub on an ink pad at a National Park gift shop and then smash into paper. This hobby has many benefits, beyond giving me a reason to nervously approach a cashier at a National Park gift shop and ask if they have the Passport Book stamp, and then repeat myself because I didn’t quite make myself clear, and then ask up to three other people while I wither and die of embarrassment before they find the stamp. For example, if I ever want to know on what day I visited Ford’s Theater and the Petersen House Where Lincoln Died I can flip to the appropriate section of my Passport Book, where I won’t find it, because I stamped those in my Letterboxing log book, which is a totally different ink-stamp-based hobby.

Anyway, I had a great chance to lose my Passport Book recently, when I visited my parents, who last year moved to South Carolina, catching South Carolina completely off-guard. We visited some of the National Parks in the area, as well as some lighthouses, since my love has a Lighthouse Passport Book good for another set of ink stamps, although the specific lighthouse we found had no stamp, which invokes an honestly complicated series of rules because it turns out lighthouse-visiting is a complicated hobby. The important thing is I left my Passport Book behind, and my parents eventually found it.

My father mailed it to me, and he packaged it himself. I should explain, the book is a little slimmer than a small paperback novel, the kind you might mail by buying one of the small-size bubble-wrap mailers and stuffing in and wondering if the self-sealing flap was going to come loose in actual mailing. That’s because you don’t share that side of my family’s heritage of over-wrapping.

I don’t want to brag but we’re really very good at it, if by “good” you mean “can routinely include so much packing tape that the package outweighs the delivery vehicle” and if by “delivery vehicle” you mean the “cargo-carrying Boeing 777 Freighter, piloted by elephants, who came to the airport right from the Mongolian buffet, which had just got a delivery in of ginger-spiced gravity”. That bubble-wrap mailer with the self-sealing flap you might worry about? Well, we’d put a layer of tape over that. And another one to cover the edge between the tape and the mailer. And maybe staple the envelope end closed just to be sure. And weld the staple in place. And glue a patch over the weld. When we put it in the mail, it’s never getting out again, and that’s not even considering what we do to make sure the address doesn’t get smeared in transit.

I don’t want it to sound like this package-wrapping thing is a chore or even unpleasant. It’s got an outright merry side. Every Christmas, for example, we bring out a present that my great-uncle Al gave to my father in 1949, and we all take turns trying to unwrap it a little more. We believe we’re nearly one-sixth of the way through it, and you can imagine how thrilled we are since various hints in family lore suggest it might be a model train with Jersey Central “Blue Comet” line livery. And someday some distant descendant might finally inherit these generations of family moments, and actually get it open, and then tuck the present aware somewhere, wrapping it up for safety.

My father didn’t take wrapping my Passport Book up to the greatest possible extremes, but it still arrived safe and sound and within hours of when the package tracking service said it would. It came as a neat little bundle, wrapped in the paper bag he got from the grocery, and wrapped again in more grocery-bag paper just in case, and I was able to get it open using just my fingers, the kitchen scissors, our pet rabbit’s incisors, the table saw, several cries to the heavens about the injustice of it all, and the smaller scissors I use to trim my moustache. Everything came through in great shape and I’m fairly confident that I haven’t lost the book yet.

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Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there.

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