“You’ve Got Mail.” There is now a much different context to that phrase than once was the case.
Today it probably indicates a long list of unopened emails, most quickly deleted, some perhaps unread. Many check their text messages and emails with the frequency similar to drawing a fresh breath.
Receiving mail was a very different experience in the Winfield in which I grew up. Mailboxes then didn’t exist in “the ether”, they were made of galvanized metal perched on wooden posts alongside our rural roads in proximity to our driveways. Does that explain why we use the term “post” box? No anonymity then, our names were usually marked clearly on the sides of the box. As memory serves outgoing letters went into the box for pick up and the lid was closed. After the mailman had been by the lid would again be closed to advise that mail awaited.
Through all those early years our address was pretty simple … RR1, Winfield, B.C. The Winfield postmaster was Les Clement and he and his helpers knew everyone in the community. For some time, Art Gable performed this job as an adjunct to his G&M store in Okanagan Centre; the Post Office tradition carried on by his daughter Jeanette for many years. I don’t remember the specifics but think a similar situation existed for Oyama. I used to send out for free brochures on boats, outboard motors and such, and recall one arriving addressed simply to, Richard Gibbons, Winfield, BC.
The man responsible for getting the mail into the correct box was Jack Wyatt. He was a familiar sight driving what I recall as a mid-30’s Ford sedan, black of course. Thanks to Shannon at our Museum I’ve attached a photo of him in his familiar cap. He seemed to drive the car from somewhere around the middle of the front seat. Sometimes he’d have cardboard boxes strapped to the Ford’s running boards, filled with groceries for delivery. I’m sure the charge for this service was twenty five or fifty cents. As I’ve said, things were very different then. I don’t recall that we received a lot of junk mail as there weren’t many businesses around needing to promote themselves. Local news was provided by The Calendar, a Gestetner printed publication by the Women’s Institute of which our mom was a member. Of course there would be bills; many locals had accounts with businesses like our general store run by the Clements, or maybe one of the few drug stores in Kelowna.
What was most eagerly anticipated was a letter, a real letter written by hand with pen and on paper. My last article spoke of our mom’s pleasure at receiving my sister Sharon’s frequent and lengthy updates on her far away world. Those letters were read, then reread out loud to all who visited. Many years later most of them were found in our mother’s bedroom dresser drawer.
During the war years mom’s younger brother Jack Friesen was back east receiving training before being posted overseas. He wrote long and frequent letters home chronicling his life as a young man experiencing exciting places and events far removed from his life he’d left here. The last letter my mom received prior to his being killed in action in Burma on April 1st, 1945, congratulated her on the birth of her son Richard. Suffice it to say Uncle Jack’s letters, carefully read and sorted by my now late sister Sharon, are intact and will hopefully one day be in the archives of our museum.
When Elaine was sorting through her late parent’s papers years ago she came across a box of Aerograms. Some may recall those thin sheets of light blue paper that once filled to the margins with writings, could be folded up and mailed to the four corners of the earth. Those letters she found chronicled a five month trip to Europe taken by Elaine and me in 1969. When we’d arrive at a new city we would immediately go to the American Express office to check for those familiar blue envelopes that provided our only communications link with home. Our traveling address was always at Poste Ristante, or the equivalent of “General Delivery” here at home. We still have them as an enduring record of a marvellous adventure.
History, whether of families, friends, lovers, or civilization itself, has been substantially based on letters. While the new world of digitization will provide a vastly more comprehensive and informative record of our world I somehow doubt that it will provide the same anticipation and pleasure as those early days of seeing a letter written in a familiar hand waiting in the mailbox to be savoured and saved.
Rich Gibbons, Okanagan Centre
1 Photograph #1997.000.028, from the Lake Country Museum and Archives, .
2 This article was previously published in The View from Lake Country, Friday, February 24, 2017, p. 5.