Saturday, August 17, 2013

My Family Doesn't Have Nice Things...

That title is a little bit of a stretch, but I loved the way it sounded and couldn't resist using it. We DO have a few nice things. Nice in the shallow materialistic current societally favored sense of the word. I'm talking about the 35th wedding anniversary ring my dad got my mom (don't bother googling my address, it's a *nice* ring, but no one's going to get in the papers for stealing it) and my new MacBook Pro would fall into that category, I suppose. But by and large all of the very coolest and best stuff we have came from other places. Other times.

A reclaimed glider on the screened porch, dating roughly to the '60s. Bonus points if you even know what a 'glider' is. A vintage formica table in the kitchen. Other pieces of furniture from various deceased relatives. Clothing, too, is something more often than not purchased at Goodwill, or vintage stores, though occasionally something brand-new and store bought will be purchased. Bras and underwear, mostly. The point is, my family is one of a mind that you don't throw out things just because they're 'old' and you don't buy stuff just because it's in fad at the moment and EVERYONE has one. Because, eventually, 'everyone' will be getting rid of whatever it was they just had to have, and they'll spend the next decade pretending as though they never got sucked into that particular cult of en vogue strangeness. Just look at all those folks who had Flowbees... More bonus points if you remember Flowbee.

The one exception to the 'not trying to keep up with the Jones' mindset in our house is the mailbox. I know, I know, I've thrown you entirely now because you're scratching your head going 'Mailbox? What's the big deal about a mailbox? EVERYONE has a mailbox.' But not so. Some of us just end up with a receptacle that looks enough like a mailbox to fool the post office employees into shoving mail into it. If we're lucky.

When I was a very small kid, in town, we had a mailbox attached to the side of the house. It was black. I can't tell you all that much more about it because I was so small that from my perspective, you'd have to use a rocket ship just to get that high on the side of the house. And we had a one story ranch. The Dixon grandparents had one like that too, only their's could be reached by dragging a chair over to it (usually the old rocking chair, because we liked to live dangerously, and it was the closest one) and standing in the seat. But Rainelle was such a small town that if you were on the front porch when the mailman walked (yes, WALKED) by on his rounds, he'd actually hand you the mail. Heck, sometimes he'd stand there and actually have a conversation with you.

But, I digress. At some point in my childhood, we took the mailbox off the house and got one that stood out at the curb on a heavy wooden post. This one was black too. And I can't tell you much more about it either, because I just didn't care. My sister and I were never (that I can remember) kids who loved to retrieve the mail. I wish now that I could remember that simple black shape of normality from my childhood, because once we moved out to the county, things were never the same.

We've lived in this house for about twenty years now, give or take. I don't feel like trying to count it up. Coffee is still leaking into my bloodstream and math is beyond me at the moment. Throughout that time, we've been through countless mailboxes. I used to be able to spout the exact number, but I've given up counting. By now we just shrug and say 'The mailbox is down.' and go on with life.

The very first few mailboxes were 'nice' in the current popular meaning of the word. When we moved in, we put up a brand new one with shiny gold letters and a handsome wooden post. I think it made it about six months before snow set in and VDOT smashed it into the hillside with a snowplow. We were shocked. The city used snowplows too, and not only did they avoid all the parked cars (though occasionally someone's VW Bug might be temporarily lost behind a ridge of slush) but they almost never damaged a mailbox. And besides that, three of us lived in an open straight stretch, and neither of our neighbors on either side received any damage to their mailboxes. What was this? Some sort of county initiation?

We put up another box. This one with a metal pole, as the ground was too frozen to allow for anything else. It made it through the second snow but on the third dusting we found it laid in a roadside grave. Rather than buying a new one, we jacklegged the second box into standing again. It lived crookedly up into the summer when the mowers took it out and left it in pieces. And so it went. In the winter the plows unmercifully took out their frustrations on our mailbox, and in summer, the mowers chewed it up for no apparent reason. Sometimes, during droughts where we had no snow, or the summer was so brittle that no grass grew, the mailbox lived longer. I often tried to catch the acts of violence against it, but to no avail. And never, even once, did either any other person on our stretch of road have a single bit of trouble with THEIR mailboxes. No, their boxes remained pristine. Ideal. Nice.

At first, I was just a kid and it was an amusing annoyance. But then I had to start helping fix or replace our mailbox and it got personal. I was sure someone had a grudge against us. They were doing it on purpose. Then, just a few days after replacing the box yet again, I was wakened in the wee hours by a horrendous noise outside. Racing down the drive in my jammies, I found two bewildered farm boys wandering up and down our stretch of road. They'd broken an axel on their hay wagon, they explained, and had lost a tire. With flashlights swinging, we searched. We searched until well after sunup, long after a tow truck had come and hauled their trailer away. By then you could clearly see in the road where the axel had broken, sending one entire wheel askew. The wayward wheel had veered to the left, neatly smashing our solitary mailbox - the only thing for hundreds of feet either way - and flinging it clean into the fence of the adjacent cow field. The wheel itself, to this day, has never been found. I knew then, that our mailbox was doomed for eternity.

Since then we've been through various mailboxes, lost in various manners. The snow plows and summer mowers remain the primary culprits, but there have been other, less conventional killers as well. The power company has damaged one. VDOT damaged another, while only halfway fixing a drainage problem (there is a drainage ditch under the road in front of our house, which was put in back when it was a one lane dirt road. The pipe is twelve inches in diameter and constantly gets clogged, nearly flooding the road on occasion. I maintain that the entire thing will be swept away eventually) and then some workers on the farm across from us managed to wing one while working on fencing. Once, the post office itself caused so much damage by swinging in to drop the mail at such an angle that they consistently warped the box to one side, then left us a note proclaiming that our box was an 'Unacceptable receptacle' and that we needed to replace it posthaste, or risk getting no mail at all. It was very tempting. But at that time, there was no such thing as email (unless you were a cutting edge geeker who was in the know with Telenet) so we replaced that mailbox as well. Then there was the loose cow, who bent the box while dashing up and down the road... I was chasing it while wearing nothing but a pink slip, and still I could not save the mailbox. It was only bent though, so I could straighten it that time. But just a couple of weeks later the mower finished what the cow started. Sometimes, there was no visible reason whatsoever for the destruction. The mailbox was just in the ditch, and that was that. The most recent incident was a two pronged attack. First the snow plows mashed the box over sideways. At that point, lost in rage, Mom and I got a new mailbox and pole drove two metal fencing stakes deep into the ground on either side of the pole, wiring the lot of it together. No one was going to smash it over sideways now! And they didn't. Instead, I was awakened just a month later by another horrible sound. If you've ever heard a car wreck, nothing else sounds quite like it. Some one had hit a patch of ice and run off the road. Before he could get the police there (but thankfully while he was out of the truck and well away from it) another car hit the same ice and ran off the road and hit the already-wrecked vehicle. There were sirens and first responders. I stayed down there, alternately calling the families of the two drivers to tell them where their loved ones were going etc. The first guy had actually rolled his truck, and the woman had an obviously broken arm, but both were fine in the end. Once the sun had risen and everyone had gone, the damage was obvious. A piece of flying debris had glanced the mailbox. Our triple poles stood tall and proud, but the box hung askew alongside them. I tiredly wrenched it around and propped it in position. A little tape helped things. Until a late snowfall prompted the plows to come by.

As I type this, a fresh new mailbox stand down at the roadside. I'm not holding my breath to see how long the shine stays on it. Instead I'm writing this post and then running out to the farm to visit Sonny. If it's there when I return, awesome, if not, I'll just murmur a Hail Mary for it as I turn up the drive, and get on with life.

This concludes your morning of Erma Bombeck-inspired blather.


8 comments:

  1. I thought this was a great read (from your cousin Amy)!

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    1. Hi Amy! Thanks for reading and I'm glad you liked it! :D

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  2. I want that kind of "not nice." I love old stuff, making do, what my grandmother calls "finegaling." My ex had a thing about always having "good stuff." He wanted expensive, "real" furniture and a fancy wool rug, and then got upset when they got scratched up or the pets had an accident. I love my scratched up wooden table. Those scratches are from pets, high chairs, and a sewing machine with a screw poking out the bottom that we didn't know about. Also there are rings from teapots, during my annual tea party when I invite my bestest friends over.

    The best life is LIVED, not perfect. But I am sorry about the mailbox. I know as a kid I envied people with those fiberglass mailboxes with the pretty patterns, like cardinals or horses or pine trees.

    I really wanted one of those.

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    1. You're SO right about life being lived, not perfect, Christine! We did, actually, once have a mailbox with one of those covers on it that had a picture of running horses. This was when we were living in town and it was a 'big' thing to get a fancy mailbox cover. That mailbox lived forever, may have been there when we moved, though after a few years, the cover disintegrated from exposure and it ended life as just a black mailbox, much the same as it entered existence, I imagine.

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  3. Our household motto is: Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without. ... We have lots of old stuff and hand-me-down stuff. My kids have always been great about not demanding brand name clothes or brand new clothes just because a new school year is starting. I buy them clothes when their old stuff wears out or they when they've grown out of something. ... When they were all toddlers and we were out-and-about, people would stop me and compliment me on my three boys. Uh. I'd just smile and say thanks. They didn't need to know that my youngest is a girl ... wearing her brothers' hand-me-downs. I don't "make" her do that anymore. :) She's 17. :) But just this morning, she left the house wearing an old pair of her brother's shorts. She doesn't care. They're good enough.

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    1. That's pretty much how we live, Margo. Jeans eventually become jean shorts and finally rags for the rag bucket. New clothes show up on occasion, and since my sister and I are twins, there wasn't much hand-me-downing to be done between the two of us. But my parents had friends with older children, and my cousins and I shared stuff, just as my sister and my friends who have kids of varying ages pass stuff back and forth nowadays. The only difference is that they don't make clothes like they used to, and instead of making it three or four generations (I've worn my dad's jeans from before he was married, and his navel work pants, and my grandfather's work clothes) they only make it a couple. But still, they're good until the last seam gives out!

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  4. I almost don't want to tell you that my Dad works for the DOT and has taken out his fair share of mailboxes during the summer months when he's driving the dump trucks, and then in the winter months while driving the snowplow or sanding trucks.

    Basketball hoops are always in danger too when he's at the wheel.

    Loved this post!

    Also, we're the kind of family who always shops at Goodwill and yard sales. So my daughter got quite a shock (as in, mouth agape and eyes wide) when I showed her the price of the new shoes I wanted (but ended up not getting because I couldn't justify dropping that kind of coin on one pair of shoes).

    Christi Corbett

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