Today’s Flyover People column as seen in The Emporia Gazette:
For several days this winter when I walked through the door of the post office, I thought, “Maybe it’s here today.”
I had ordered a bracelet online from a Hesston business called The Rusted Chain, and was awaiting the bracelet’s arrival.
The anticipation and the peering into a post office box reminded me so much of my childhood days. When I was a kid in Pawnee Rock, I was often the one in my family who walked the block to the post office to pick up the mail.
I had several pen pals and received a letter or two every week, but it was even more exciting to have a parcel on its way.
We were not strangers to mail order in the ‘60s and ‘70s in rural Kansas. That’s how we purchased many of our belongings. As a family, we just didn’t do much store shopping.
When I was young Grandma and Mom made most of my clothes – all of my dresses to be sure. But the rest of our family’s apparel, from shoes and socks to underwear and jeans and coats, was purchased from the Sears & Roebuck catalog.
We also had the heavy Montgomery Ward catalog and one from J.C. Penney, but back then Sears had the best stuff.
So, Sears & Roebuck dressed me. My favorite red Keds that I wore when I was 4 years old came from the catalog. My incredibly cute turquoise pedal-pusher outfit came through the mail. And, when I was in junior high, my maroon, zippered sweater came from the catalog’s Lemon Frog Shop.
Each August I’d sit on the living room couch, the Sears catalog on my lap, and go clothes shopping. Because most of my clothes came from mail order, I had seldom been to a store to “try things on.” Living in the outskirts of the world, we took our chances on size and fit.
Mail order was the old-fashioned way of the new-fangled online shopping. We could order anything from clothing and jewelry to gadgets and beauty supplies.
Back in the day, most magazines had tiny classified ads in the back pages. Many ads had just a dozen or so words and were no larger than a 140-character Twitter post. The item for sale was described, sometimes illustrated with a drawing or photo, the price was listed and an address given.
I must have been about 11 years old when I ordered a ring through the mail. The ring was silver, the band thick and wide, with three peace signs embossed around the band. It cost $1.25, I think, with .25 for shipping. Still, when your allowance is only a quarter per week, $1.50 was a lot of money.
The ring was the first thing I ever bought through the mail all by myself using my own money. I wrote my name and address on a sheet of paper, included a dollar bill and two quarters, and sent the envelope to an address in New York. And the anticipation began.
Every day I walked to the post office and spun the dial around on P.O. Box 7, hoping to find a ring. One morning, perhaps two weeks later, the small manila pouch arrived.
I don’t know if I still have that ring. I haven’t seen it for years, but maybe it’s tucked away in a drawer somewhere. I wish I could hold it right now because I loved that ring. I was invested in it. I put in the money for it and I put in the waiting time.
That ring from long ago came to mind every one of those days this January when I walked into the post office to check for the bracelet that I ordered.
I suppose things really haven’t changed that much in 40 years; we still order things, it’s just that most of the ordering is done online instead of from print catalogs or from ads in the back of magazines.
And there’s still the anticipation when we go to the post office, or look for the mailman or the delivery driver. With a mail order purchase, part of the fun is the wait.
Copyright 2014 ~ Cheryl Unruh