Stamping Out Holiday Tradition

Walking along M St. with a handful of Christmas cards toward the Post Office, I unwittingly became a person of interest.

People stared at my petite stack of cards. They inquired. "Are those Christmas cards??" More than one person gasped. Some witnesses smirked. "You're sending those?" Hey, it's not June, I thought. It's only three days after Christmas. Two days on the U.S. Postal Service calendar (no Sunday delivery). Had they already eliminated Saturday delivery, I would only be one U.S. Postal Service day late.

A homeless man stopped me to offer help. "I can MAIL those for you!!!" he gushed. Did I look desperate? I felt sheepish. The envelopes, so pretty and delicate, seemed to be a neon sign advertising my lateness.

But that wasn't the reason for my celebrity, a.k.a. my shame. Turns out, people were amazed that anyone still sends these decorated slices of reconstituted tree pulp.

"CHRISTMAS CARDS???" said a man passing by. "At least you're not sending ELECTRONIC cards." He nearly spat. Daringly, but in a soft voice, I expressed support for e-cards. They're less wasteful, I stammered, and they can be cute.

"I wouldn't know," he harrumphed. "I never open them."

Was he sending the paper kind? "Not this year. I'm paring my list."

Paring his list? I kept walking toward the Post Office, wondering about the holiday spirit but gaining confidence in what now seemed like an act of societal rebellion. The wind was whipping to and fro, but that wasn't stopping me. Suddenly, I was a rebel -- with a cause!

I threw open the Post Office door to continue my quest. Stamps were needed. Success was within reach.

At the head of the line, a woman was at the counter, sending packages in Express envelopes. Christmas gifts?

"Close the security window ma'am," said the clerk. "All the way."

"I don't want to have to do this AGAIN," she said, banging the window closed. The clerk locked it before opening the panel on his side.

"I'm sorry ma'am, you'll need a return address," he said.

"Why do I need a return address?" she barked.

"All U.S. Mail needs a return address," he stated flatly.

"Why?" she snapped. If this were an airport, she'd be under arrest.

"Because they might need to return the items to you."

"They have no choice!" she declared. "They're going to take their products back whether they like it or not!"

Well, Virginia, about that whole "Christmas" thing...

The line inched forward as people sent registered envelopes, mostly with documents. I didn't see anyone else in search of...uh, what did they used to call them? Stamps?

One woman who looked to be in her 10th decade was sending a large box wrapped in wrinkled brown paper.

"Anything liquid, fragile, perishable?" the female clerk asked.

The old woman lilted to the left, grabbing the counter. "How much is it?" she asked.

"How you doin' today, darlin," the clerk tried again. "Anything liquid, fragile, perishable in here? Move this way so you can hear me, dear."

"How long will it take?" asked the woman, shuffling in the right direction, but unable to understand the muffled words.


"Liquid? No, no," the woman waved her hand.

Perishable and fragile remained possibilities as the clerk moved on. Still, this system seemed more reliable than the TSA in Amsterdam.

And, here we all were, carrying out a peaceful, anachronistic, even radical act by waiting in line at the Post Office. Wasn't that the whole idea behind "It's a Wonderful Life?" Sort of?

I was standing there in the bank with Jimmy Stewart in a black-and-white reverie when a voice pierced through. "Yes, ma'am," the clerk said, "How are you today?"

"Hi, I'd like to buy some stamps, please," I said. The choices included Christmas, Hannukah, the Simpsons and a stamp featuring Anna J. Cooper (c.1858-1964), "an educator, author, and activist who challenged biased notions of racial and gender inferiority. Cooper fought for social justice and civil rights for African-American women, young people, and the poor through her scholarship, community outreach, and innovative educational leadership," according to the back of the stamp. I bought 60 of those. Mailed the cards.

And there was still time to get a dark chocolate mocha before heading back to work.

Yes, Virginia...

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A nice slice of the everyday. Thanks and best wishes.