Santa Might Be On To Something

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been busy this holiday season. Already several times I’ve party planned and cleaned and hosted and cleaned. I’ve shopped for gifts, a task that no matter how early I start, always seems to take until Christmas Eve. I’ve made Christmas candies and cookies, decorated and crafted and spread Christmas cheer in a lot of little ways. But in order to accomplish these tasks, I’ve had to let others slide.

The biggest of those other tasks is sending Christmas cards. I wasn’t feeling too bad about that, though, because I am fortunate not to have many overachieving friends. I’m happy to report that I didn’t receive a single card the day after Thanksgiving (seriously, such a betrayal might signal the end our friendship). Nor did I receive any cards for the first nearly two weeks of December, which goes a long way in making a busy gal feel truly special.

dog-card
I even received a Christmas card from my dog this week, though judging by a curious postmark (and his notable lack of thumbs), I suspect he had help.

But then this third week of Advent arrived, and with it came the postcards featuring the smiling faces of friends and family and busy children who are growing faster than I can quite grasp, handmade die-cut works of art filled with sweet holiday greetings, and letters recounting a year’s worth of adventures.

So that’s when the guilt started to set in. Because for all I have done so far this busy season, I haven’t designed a postcard or die-cut any artsy Christmas trees or written a year-end letter. I haven’t even purchased a big box of factory-made holiday greetings.

And I feel especially bad about it when I take a moment to realize that even Santa, easily the season’s busiest fictional character with tens of thousands of letters to send, already has this holiday task well in hand.

In my defense, Santa does have a lot of practice. He’s been sending Christmas letters to excited littles at least since the late 19th century, decades before postal policy technically allowed him to do so. Because letters addressed to Santa Claus used to wind up in the Dead Letter office.

Or at least officially they did. There were always  those kindhearted postmasters who couldn’t stand the thought of a letter to Santa going unanswered, or an innocent expression of real need going unmet.

One such kindhearted person was Connecticut postmaster Harris Eames, who in 1894 opened a letter addressed to “Sandy Clous” from a little girl in a family he knew. From the letter, Eames learned that the family had fallen on harder times than anyone had realized. The postmaster contacted local businesses and orchestrated a Sandy Clous miracle.

santa-suit
Actually, I don’t think this guy really does much of anything himself. He doesn’t even deserve those cookies! Public Domain image, via http://www.costumers.com/

For years, similar heartwarming stories rolled in from post offices all over the country, until finally, in 1913, the Postal Department relented, accepting its position as the gatekeeper for Santa Claus.

The procedure for handling and answering letters from children to their Christmas hero has changed through the years amid growing privacy concerns, but many postal offices still partner with local charities to deliver Sandy Clous miracles through what is collectively known as “Operation Santa.” And the jolly old elf himself will take the time to write back to any child who wants to send him a letter.

Sort of.

Much like Santa’s brilliant gift-giving policy, his letters do require a little help from parents. The current USPS Santa letter instructions state that you must include the response letter in a self-addressed, stamped envelope included in a specially addressed outer envelope.

presents
If only I could get my family to buy and wrap their own presents.

Oh, and because Santa is super organized and on top of such important tasks, it has to be received in Anchorage, Alaska by December 1oth. That way the postal elves have time to process it and get it back to you by Christmas, postmarked from the North Pole, of course.

I do think the USPS and Santa are on to something. So, I’ll tell you what. If you are hoping to receive a Christmas card from me this year, all you need to do is design one, place it in a self-addressed stamped envelope and a larger envelope addressed to me. Then drop it in your mailbox and I will send it right back to you, postmarked from St. Louis to give it that truly authentic feel.

Now, if you wanted it by Christmas, you’d have had to get it to me by December 10th, since I’ll surely drive around with it in my purse for a few days before remembering to drop it in the mailbox. But since we both know you can’t reasonably expect a Christmas card from me until January, I think there’s still time.

 

 

 

 

 

Follow the Arrows

As the summer wears on, and my children increasingly have trouble entertaining themselves, I find myself struck at the genius of my mother. It was well-known in my house growing up in Smalltown, Illinois, that it was a very bad idea to utter the words, “I’m bored” in front of Mom. Her response would, without fail, be, “Great! The toilets need to be scrubbed.”

photo credit: Mykl Roventine via photopin cc</a
photo credit: Mykl Roventine via photopin cc

But every so often, if one of us had a friend or two over to play and we found ourselves in a lull, she would take pity on us and come up with these amazingly creative ideas, from fun little games to large scale projects of awesomeness. One of my favorites was a game she resurrected from her own childhood in Even Smallertown, Illinois called an arrow hunt.

The idea was that one person (or one team) would take a piece of chalk and go somewhere in our Smalltown neighborhood to hide. Along the route, the hiders marked a chalk arrow every time they changed directions. The arrow had to be clearly visible, though it could be in an unexpected place, and the final arrow pointed to the spot where the hider(s) would be found.

The game was a hit. It killed a lot of otherwise boring summertime hours, no toilets were scrubbed, and my friends and I discovered all the nooks and crannies of the nearby park and neighborhood landscaping. And I got really good at spotting a trail.

So did pilot Jack Knight on one dark night in 1921 when he completed a successful flight from Chicago to North Platte, Nebraska. This was important for two reasons. First, it was the first (and possibly only) time anyone ended up in North Platte on purpose. Second, Knight’s flight had been a test for the US Postal Service.

A relatively new technology, airplanes offered the promise of efficient coast to coast mail delivery. But navigation was still in its infancy with pilots relying on landmarks to guide them. This meant that night flying was pretty much out.

It's possible this man has no idea where he's going.
It’s possible this man has no idea where he’s going.

That is until someone had the brilliant idea to use postal workers and citizen volunteers to man a series of bonfires along Jack Knight’s dark route. His success led to the (slightly) more sophisticated plan to dot the Transcontinental Air Mail Route from New York to San Francisco with 50-foot steel, gas-lit beacons mounted into giant yellow concrete arrows on the ground.

Each arrow pointed toward the next beacon, around ten miles or so away depending on topography. Congress thought it was a great idea and by 1924 there were giant arrows pointing the way from Cleveland, Ohio all the way to Rock Springs, Wyoming. And because the Postal Service realized there weren’t a lot of reasons to stop in Rock Springs, Wyoming, the route was extended over the next few years, eventually reaching from New York to San Francisco.

air mail route
Transcontinental Airmail Route

Of course it wasn’t long before fancier navigation systems developed and pilots began to feel that radio frequencies were somewhat more reliable than the old fly-real-low-and-follow-the-arrows system. During WWII, the steel beacon towers were dismantled and repurposed, putting a practical end to the dotted Transcontinental Air Mail Route.

But the arrows are still there. Their paint is faded and they may have a few cracks here and there, but many of them that haven’t become the victims of development are still there to be found by the odd eagle-eyed traveler.

So we’re almost to the countdown to the start of school. I am not as creative as my mother and my boys are spending their childhood in Not-So-Small-Suburb, Missouri so even in our very safe neighborhood, I’m not terribly comfortable with the idea of them chasing arrows through the streets. My solution for summer boredom is to plan the big family vacation for the end of the summer, as a reward of sorts, for making it this far. And now I know as we pack up for our trip west, we’ll be following the arrows after all.

Arrows go left. Arrows go right. Follow in the morning, or follow them at night.
Arrows go left. Arrows go right. Follow in the morning, or follow them at night.

 

Off the Scale and Into the Box, to Grandmother’s House We Go

Okay, okay, so I haven’t posted on this blog in something like a month. And yes, I am aware that there are dire consequences to such neglect. I know very well that if I am not posting, then no one can be reading and if no one is reading, then no one is talking about what I am posting, and if no one is talking about what I am posting then I will never reach the gazillion readers that might provide me with a large enough platform for a traditional publisher to consider taking a risk on publishing my novel that approximately .000001% of my blog followers will someday check out from the library.

I’m not complaining. The industry is what it is and I suppose it might be fair to say either I want to play or I don’t. Except that I do, most of the time. And other times, like over the course of the last month, I don’t. You could say I am taking an extended break. And, yes, I do mean “taking” because I probably won’t post again for something like a month. The reason for this is simple.

 My sons are 8 and 5 and they never will be ever again. In fact, my five-year-old is planning to turn six in the next couple weeks, and I’m going to have to let him. So while they are eight and five (almost six), I would really like their summer vacation experiences to include a mother who is available to read a book with them, or play a board game with them, or throw a ball with them. What I don’t particularly want their summer to include is a mother who is shoeing them away so she can read just one more blog, or research just one more post.

In fact, I am only sharing this one because I have shipped my children off for a couple days at Grandma’s house. Obviously I don’t mean that I literally shipped them since the US Postal Service declared back in1920 that it would no longer accept children as parcel post. And, yes, like all regulations (and safety warnings) that appear a little unnecessarily ridiculous, someone actually did it.

U.S. Mail Storage Box
But it looks so child friendly.

All 5-year-old Charlotte May Pierstorff of Grangeville, Idaho wanted to do was visit her grandmother who lived just 75 miles away in Lewiston, Idaho. Of course this was 1914 and so simply hopping in the family minivan and heading an hour or so down highway 95 wasn’t an option yet. The only good route across the fairly treacherous landscape was to take a train, an expensive proposition for the Pierstorff family.

Little May’s parents were poor, but they were also clever (or desperate for a date night).  They did what any caring parents would do. They pasted a postage stamp on their young daughter and dropped her in the mail. And at the time, they were completely within the law to do it.

The US Postal Service had begun offering domestic parcel post service in January of 1913 and while there were restrictions on poisons and certain types of live animals (smelly ones), there weren’t any regulations specifically prohibiting the mailing of people. Little May weighed in at 48 ½ pounds, just under the maximum allowable weight for a live chicken, which, it seems, was good enough for the Grangeville Postmaster.

Chicken Suit
And what grandma wouldn’t be delighted to receive this in the mail?

Mail clerk Leonard Mochel (a cousin of May’s mother, which makes the story a little less disturbing) took charge of the world’s largest chicken and saw her safely to her grandmother’s house in Lewiston. As a package, May’s train fare was only 53 cents, about a third of what she would have paid as a passenger.

May Pierstorff was likely the first child to travel by mail, but despite an outcry from postal employees, she was certainly not the last. Finally on June 13, 1920, the USPS announced that it could no longer accept children as parcel post, as children were clearly not “harmless live animals which do not require food or water while in transit.”

USPS service delivery truck in a residential a...
Just think of the mess my children could make of this back seat.

Having just driven my children the two hours to Grandma’s house in a car packed with snacks,  I have to agree with the USPS on this one. Children are most definitely not harmless (and they can be a little smelly). And believe me, despite my very noble sounding rationale for my lengthy absence from the blogosphere, I don’t think it will win me a Mother-Of-The-Year award any time soon. My kiddos still irritate me and there are days when I find myself wishing they would just hurry and grow up a little already. I still snap at them occasionally, or let myself get too distracted to listen to them tell me about their latest imaginary adventure. I may even wish from time to time that I could drop them in the mail and ship them off to family members who are less tired and can recognize how wonderfully adorable my children really are.

I have missed and will continue to miss blogging regularly because I have had the pleasure to virtually meet some really interesting people out there in the blogosphere. And I am fairly certain that there are at least a gazillion more really interesting people waiting to be virtually met. But that will have to wait a little while longer because next summer, I will be the mother of sons who are nine and six (nearly seven), and though I’m sure they will still be occasionally irritating (and smelly), they won’t ever again be the same as they are right now.