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updated: 10/18/2011 8:15 AM

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  • Stephanie Penick knows handwritten letters are becoming a thing of the past, but she remembers what a big part they played in her childhood.

      Stephanie Penick knows handwritten letters are becoming a thing of the past, but she remembers what a big part they played in her childhood.
    Daily Herald file photo

 

Let's face it. With social media, online services and instant messaging, we're less likely to receive personal letters, check payments and birthday cards via the U.S. Postal Service.

Still, I can't help but ponder the postage stamp, first issued by Congress in 1847, and the words of 19th-century American wit Josh Billings.

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"Consider the postage stamp," Billings wrote. "Its usefulness consists in the ability to stick to one thing till it gets there."

For me, distractions have become a way of life. More than once, instant messages have startled me almost off my chair, interrupting my train of thought. At least mail delivery keeps me focused.

When I was a kid growing up in Muncie, Ind., my folks reminisced about a time when residences received mail deliveries twice a day, six days a week. That changed to once a day in 1950. Today, there's talk of transitioning to five-day delivery nationwide.

Handwritten letters played a big part in my earlier life.

In fourth grade, I signed up for a pen pal in Paris, France, and for years, I exchanged letters with Jocelyn Blonden Par Avion on onion skin stationery.

I loved sending my ramblings to my grandparents, confident that every letter would prompt my grandmother's reply.

Unknown to me, my grandmother saved all my letters. After she died, my aunt presented them to me. Not only did I note how my penmanship had developed over the years, I was reminded of forgotten incidents that had been important at the time.

Plus, my closing usually reiterated my quest to meet a deadline. "Well, I'd better go now. It's about time for the mailman."

The thrill of receiving a personal handwritten letter in the mail is a feeling today's youngsters may never experience.

Times change -- so do habits. That's history.

At any rate, Friday I had plans to meet friends at 5:30 p.m. in downtown Naperville before heading over to the Wes Spencer Crosstown Classic at North Central College.

But first I needed to weigh a large envelope to go out in Friday's mail. I was out of stamps and my gas tank was on empty, too.

Normally these days, I pick up stamps at Oswald's Pharmacy, one of a growing number of local businesses that provide selected postal products and services, but I wasn't sure I had enough gas to get to Naperville Plaza.

At 4:50 p.m., I headed to Speedway, next to the main post office near our house, and filled up.

For efficiencies of time at rush hour, I also parked there and hurried to the post office, expecting to use the self-service scale in the lobby, with cash in my pocket to purchase stamps.

The 10-oz. envelope required $2.41 for first-class delivery. When I went to place a $20 bill in the slot to purchase stamps from the vending machine, I read that now you only can pay with a debit or credit card.

Bummer. I didn't have my debit card.

So I entered the post office, where dozens of folks, all ages, were lined up along the display cases, eager to mail packages by week's end at one of three counters "now serving."

As I dutifully took a number for service, I glanced up, noting that No. 9 was next. I'd pulled No. 51. Yikes!

Not a champion at standing still, I waited 12 minutes while 10 numbers were called.

No. 19 stepped up to the counter with multiple requests. As the customer service agent patiently showed several sheets of stamp design choices, other waiting customers had begun pacing. Kids were getting antsy.

Mindful of my 5:30 p.m. appointment, I remembered that Jewel also sells stamps.

I darted out the doors, followed the sidewalk, crossed Ogden Avenue and scurried to the service desk at Jewel, where I bought a book of stamps ironically called Forever stamps.

I quickly relayed my story to the salesperson at Jewel, expressing my gratitude that the supermarket sold postage stamps, too.

Next I retraced my steps to slip my envelope through the outgoing mail slot by 5:30 p.m., curious to compare my No. 51 with the "Now Serving" sign.

No. 44 was up.

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