(Note: this story is not underwritten by the U.S. Postal Service.)
Just like many of you, my parents gave me “Dear Occupant” mail while growing up. Being young, I had no one to send me mail except my grandparents who probably addressed it as “Master or Mistress So-and-So” to make me feel grown up. I received the Publishers Clearing House packets (with stamps that ended up on my bedroom furniture), coupon books, retailer postcards, and other junk mail. I cherished feeling wanted (I didn’t know that “Dear Occupant” was not necessarily me personally but everyone in my house) because I received mail.
This continued on as I left home to my next life assignment. I received “care packages” of favorite cookies or mail that hadn’t been properly directed. My mom wrote family news, the dog’s new quirk, and my father’s hobby of taking things apart and not fixing them right. Mail I receive correctly, I did not want. Those were bills and notices of later bills. Rarely did a friend send a letter of encouragement; those were reserved for my family.
The next phase of life might put me at work, making a living and now more mature. Did the letters fall off? Did mom think I didn’t need their company anymore? So now I was seriously mail deprived and the bills remain my only greeting that someone cares about my money.
My husband and I, being long time military members, continue to receive mail and care packages from our parents. My mom has gone through this experience three times over with her kids and knows the power of “home in a box.” She sends boxes of pre-read magazines (since subscriptions where we are, arrive late or not at all), local newspaper comics, still misdirected mail (a long-term quandary of any military family), and a letter entitled, “All the news fit to print and most that isn’t.”
In turn, my husband and I participate in a program called Adoptaplatoon.org. This non-profit organization pairs single and married civilians with single and married military members who are deployed. Remember Operation Dear Abbey and her holiday “Any Soldier” program that was ended after 2001? Well this program picked up where that left off. They require vetting of participants through an interview process. Once accepted, you’re paired with (married to married, single to single) a military member and support them through weekly letters and/or monthly packages. Mail is so powerful when you’re not at home even if it’s from a stranger. It opens doors to new places and faces of life.
Both of us have been deployed multiple times to varying places on this Earth and each time our mail has made it to us. If there’s anything about our military, it’s assurance of mail ranks very high on the morale scale even if packages looked like they danced with elephants or took a bath on the tarmac. Mail makes us smile and transports us away from our current situation. When your mom writes about the garden you remember the smell of flowers. When your dad takes a rare moment to pen a note about his ‘dang blasted truck’ you remember his cursing on weekends. Perhaps your younger brother will drop a note on scratch paper telling you he misses joking around with you. Best yet is when your niece crayons her first interpretation of your face. Sure your eyes are wobbly, but the picture really dresses up a field tent.
What I’m saying is: write more letters! Doesn’t matter if the letter is going to your college student or first-time apartment dweller; everyone loves mail! Your sister will appreciate a note of luck; your brother a quick write about the local news. Even in reverse- children write to your parents because they grew up in an era of handwritten notes. This email stuff won’t cut it.
Letters shouldn’t go out of style. Email shouldn’t take precedence over the time it takes to handwrite a letter. Thank you notes should be on cards. Postcards should be sent while on vacation. College ruled paper should be torn from notebooks and crammed into envelopes with the frayed edges in tact.
Dear Occupant: Someone wants to hear from you. Don’t forget that postage just went up .02 cents to .44 cents.