You've Got Mail!

by Grace Polk

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          Growing up on 46th street, I would sit on the enclosed front porch, and look expectantly out the window, waiting for Larry the friendly mailman, to come up the block.  First he went to the odd numbered houses across the street, stopping at the Kappels and the Wolfs, the Lowenherzes and the Zuckermans, heading down to 39th Avenue.  Larry always wore a smile and stood tall, even with his big leather pouch heavy with mail on his shoulder.  His eyes sparkled. He was happy in his work. Everybody stopped to talk to him.

 

          Neighbors were so fond of him that they chipped in to buy him a shiny metal cart to hold his brown pouch.  He was one of the first to have a cart.  He was very proud of that gift, and very grateful.

 

          As a young girl, it was hard for me to sit still when I first got a glimpse of him.  Did he see me wave?  Running to meet him as he reached our side of the seemingly endless block, I would ask breathlessly, “Anything for me?” 

 

          Now what kind of mail do you think a little girl was getting?  Well, as soon as I learned to write, my father encouraged me to send postcards to get things by mail, so that I could save stamps and learn geography.  Like lots of girls in our day, I collected autographed pictures of movie stars. 

 

          I also collected the beautifully illustrated travel brochures advertised in magazines and the Sunday NY Times.  I treasured the ones I got from Arizona Highways and Nova Scotia, and always yearned to see those places. And finally I did.  Who knew then that travel would become my career, and take me to 50 states and abroad? 

          My stamp collection grew and my urge to travel grew with it.  I always shopped for commemorative stamps, imagining the folks receiving my correspondence would appreciate the prettier stamps. 

 

          I feel sorry for the loss of handwritten correspondence to impersonal computer exchange; there’s no kind letter carrier in peoples’ lives any more. 

 

         I always had a soft spot for the mailman no matter where I lived.  When I moved to the city, I got friendly with the mailman who was good about holding my mail once I started to travel a great deal. By way of thanks, I made personalized plates for his children and cheered him on as he went to college at night.  And when I moved again 50 years later, I made it my business to get to know the new mailman. He tells me about his family.  It feels good to reach into my new big mailbox and find the rare handwritten note among all the junk mail.

 

          And I always check the stamp! 

          Grace Polk grew up on Bliss Street, and went to Queens College where she majored in French. Landing a job with the State Department as a French interpreter, she travelled all around the United States with groups of official foreign visitors. Eventually she started taking Americans overseas on luxury study tours as a tour manager for Stanford, Harvard, Smithsonian, museums and similar institutions.  Other interesting assignments in between included restaurant critic, travel writer, public relations, event planner, researcher, photographer, painter.  Has suitcase, will travel.

          These days, you will find her walking through Central Park enjoying her renewed interest in photography.