No Postal Service Means No Summer Camp Letters

It seems odd, but not surprising to hear the news recently that the United States Postal Service intends to stop delivering mail on Saturdays. The emphasis in the stories has been that the public doesn't really care while the postal workers, who have the true stake in that decision, care quite a bit.  Personally, if mail doesn't get delivered on Saturdays, I couldn't care less.  It just means that I'll have one additional day of the week where I don't get a bill in the mail.

With the frequency and ease of use of e-mail, the efficiency of FedEx and UPS and other delivery services, and the theory that government can't and should no longer operate a national and international mail and delivery service, it's no wonder that the US Postal Service is being downsized and moving toward elimination.  This is where I'm showing my age and inevitable movement toward nostalgia, but also where I feel kind of bad if the postal service actually shuts down.  If the US government actually eliminates the postal service, not only will there be thousands of people without jobs, there will be no more letters home from summer camp.

When I was nine years old, my parents sent me away for eight weeks of summer camp.  This continued each successive year until I went to college.  The last two years I spent at camp I was a counselor, but still, for every summer over nine years, I spent those two months in Eagle River, Wisconsin at Camp Ojibwa for boys.  Whether it is right for parents to send a little nine-year-old boy away for two months may be the subject of another discussion, but anytime I brought it up with my parents, my father was quick to respond that his parents sent him away to camp (the same one by the way) when he was six.  I guess I should be grateful.

In any event, I loved camp.  How could you not?  Sports and outdoor activities every day.  The camp had it's own beach, water skiing, great food, it's own woods for hiking and it's own lake for boating.  It is where I learned to play softball and soccer and where I learned how to swim.  It is where I played on the all-camp baseball team for three years and pitched against the Eagle River "Townie" team in their stadium and was heckled as a "jew bastard" from the stands.  It is where I learned how to make a bed, fold t-shirts and shoot a rifle (poorly however).  And, maybe most enduring, it is where I learned how to write a letter.

At Camp Ojibwa, "Letter Writing Day" was Tuesday and Thursday.  Of course at that time, there were no cell phones, laptops, tablets, etc.  There were pens, Camp Ojibwa stationary or notebook paper, envelopes and the stamps your mother packed for you along with the obligatory "Make sure you write when they tell you and let your father and me know how things are going."  Letter Writing Days took place during the assigned rest periods that occurred each day after lunch.  This was about an hour every day for the campers to slow down prior to afternoon activities and for counselors and staff to catch their collective breaths.  It was also the responsibility of the counselors in each cabin to police the Letter Writing Day requirements.

Each camper sat on his bed, with pen or pencil in hand, and was "encouraged" to hurry up and write that letter.  My mother, being the world's all-time saver and collector and having moved three times in the past five years, uncovered a number of my letters from camp.  These letters not only illustrate the value of writing and what will ultimately be lost, but also that I was a cocky smart-ass.  For example, in this letter from when I was 14, I "mention" my softball prowess and my younger brother Barry's lack of enthusiasm for camp.

"Dear Mom:

... I hit three home runs in softball today.  Barry didn't get a hit and didn't seem to care.  Weather is good and I'm having fun. Barry is not.  Maybe you should come and get him..."

Another letter from when I was 10 read, in its entirety:

"Dear Mom and Dad:

I love camp.  You don't have to come for visiting day if you don't want to."

At the four-week mark, the camp invited parents and family to visit and take the kids off the campgrounds for an evening.  I think I would have been upset if they hadn't come, but the letter does reflect my love for camp.

Letter Writing Day also allowed a lovesick 15 year=old to communicate with his "purported" girlfriend.  Of course I don't have the letter I wrote to "Annie," but somehow my mother found her response that included the following:

"Dear John:

I don't want to go out with you anymore.  Ricky (my friend) used "Lizzie" (her friend).  He's an asshole.  Don't write to me anymore and don't call me when you get back please."

Truly a Dear John letter and at least she said please so there was still hope.  She hung up on me when I called.

The point of all of this is fairly simple.  Writing letters was an important part of my growing up process.  I know that being at summer camp represents a minor percentage of the population and a privileged part of that population as well.  But, if the Postal Service goes away and there is no more Letter Writing Day, where will a parent ever find anything similar to this gem that I wrote when I 12 years old:

"Dear Mom:

Camp is great.  So is the weather.



So succinct and full of detail.

The fact is, I got letters from my parents and even my grandparents and I couldn't wait to open them when I was a kid at camp.  My parents couldn't wait to get my letters from camp (I'm not quite sure why given the content).

The beauty of those letters and every letter a kid sat on his bed and wrote was that they were pen on paper - personal communication between two human beings with handwritten addresses and postage stamps licked onto an envelope.  Sad to think that it will probably end in our lifetimes.

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