On a recent little vacation in Calistoga, I realized I would miss a friend’s major birthday if I didn’t find and mail her a card. So I got myself out of a steaming pool and over to the post office. I go to Calistoga for those steaming pools at least twice a year, but I never had occasion before to visit the post office, and when I saw the rows of beautiful old post office boxes, I became (excessively, says my husband) nostalgic.
What memories of growing up in the 1940s and 50s in Cumberland, Wisconsin those old boxes evoked. I was surprised that I could not recall our combination, because, unlike today’s wretched passwords, with their @ or no@, number or no numbers, symbols or letters with or (for heavens sake!) without capitals, the combinations for those old post office boxes were so easy to use and remember even a child could do it.
I’ve spent a little time looking at old boxes at websites like eBay, YouTube, and others, and discovered there are fancy double dial boxes, but my little town would not have needed fancy. I think we just dialed around, stopping at a letter, reverse, next letter, reverse and then snapped open the box.
I think I had a brief correspondence with a pen pal; it amounted to so little that I don’t remember the child or where she (most likely she) lived. I’m guessing that most of the letters would have been for my mother from her five sisters. You would think that would be little cause for excitement, but I remember a trip to the post office to pick up the mail was somehow exciting. I have visited Cumberland a few times since leaving home in 1958, but I neglected to visit the post office. I do hope it kept the old boxes.
Cumberland is a little town vacationers visit or pass through, and Main Street still has a lot of small town charm. The wonderful old Carnegie library where I picked up my books and researched my school assignments is obviously loved and supported. The old hotel where we celebrated occasions like prom night still stands. I will have to visit the post office on my next trip.
After my nostalgic trip to the Calistoga post office, I was surprised to learn that one can still rent boxes in San Francisco’s post offices. I obviously have walked past the boxes in my post office without even seeing them. Perhaps because they are so drearily functional, exciting no feelings that something special might be waiting there, I never saw them.
Even in historical San Francisco neighborhoods like the Presidio the post office boxes are boring metal boxes.
The city’s post office at Rincon Annex pays some attention to design but a box there still would be basic metal. For an interesting article on the murals now at the Rincon Center, not the post office, check out Foundsf:
The lovely old antique post office boxes have gone the way of library card catalogs, which you will find if you decide you need to have one for old times sake, available online. What a destination post office Rincon was and still could be. But close to San Francisco, anyone needing a nostalgic fix can visit the post offices in Calistoga.
Rincon Annex. Foundsf
Editors Note: Kay Roberts is a guest writer. If you would like to submit a guest post, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org or snail mail it to Social Correspondence, P.O. Box 31082, San Francisco, CA 94131.