The U.S. Post Office is dying a lingering death.
Although a white-hair, I probably will live long enough to attend the wake and share my grief with the mourners.
What memories I have of the post office in the Fairbanks federal building! What dreams of walking up the broad steps, entering the main hall, and struggling to open a mailbox with a key that will not fit! I have had these dreams for years.
My Dad, Fabian, was a stamp collector. Purchasing the latest commemoratives at the post office was part of his routine. I learned American history from those stamps - and world geography from Fabian's collection of European, African, and Far Eastern stamps, which he obtained by mail from auction houses in New York.
Late on hot summer afternoons, Fabian would arrive home from his construction job and tell me "Get in the car, Crummy. Let's go to the P.O." Crummy was his highest term of endearment for me, born of his love of rhyming. If you rhyme Michael long enough you can wind up with Crummy. I tried to explain this to a New York psychologist. He thought I was nuts.
The post office windows were closed so we couldn't buy stamps. We went to check our mailbox. My parents never had home delivery. Perhaps they liked the security of the locked box, although Box 1859 produced frequent angry debates over who lost the key.
We lived 20 minutes from the post office. That didn't mean we could reach the P.O. in 20 minutes. After Fabian parked several blocks from the federal building, we had to push our way down Second Avenue through a swirling crowd of unemployed construction workers jawing to kill time, bar patrons sent outside to settle their differences, women finishing their shopping who became weak when my Dad smiled their way (with me around, he only smiled) and lonely old-timers -- men of the gold rush -- looking for company.
Coleridge says the ancient mariner "stoppeth one of three." Fabian Carey, who had looks to rival Carey Grant, stopped two of three.
The old-timers were richly rewarded when my old man showed up. He loved to talk. And so for the manyth time, I would hear about driving dogs on the Bonnifield Trail, gold mining in the Koyukuk country, and moose hunting near Lake Minchumina. While the old guys and my Dad gabbed, time stood still and Second Avenue became Brigadoon.
Then, suddenly, the spell would lift, and Fabian would blurt "Get moving." Time now began progressing at warp speed -- with me rushing to keep up with my Dad as he flew up the P.O. steps, opened the box, grabbed the mail, and hustled me back to the car.
Late for dinner -- again. The stew was cold; the coleslaw soggy. My mother Mary was smoldering. How mad can you get at your husband without breaking a plate over his head? That seemed to be the question in play. Meanwhile, I played with my food with a fork as Fabian, the dinner table now a penalty box, apologized with some version of "Took longer than I thought." Here's the truth: The voices of Second Avenue were a siren's call he could never resist.
I should have asked the psychologist about my post office dreams when we discussed Crummy. The message I got from them was contradictory. My failure to open the box because the key didn't fit frustrated me. Yet the Fairbanks P.O. was so familiar, so comfortable, so inviting, it felt like home.