If you knew me at the turn of the millennium, or were reading this blog when I was still writing it, back around 2014 or so, you may remember that shortly after 9/11/2001, there was an anthrax scare in the US Postal Service to which I unwittingly contributed. (I did not contribute anthrax, which was genuinely circulating, but I did contribute to the scare in some limited, but maybe less limited than you would think, way.) It was the fault of my getting over-creative with my handmade Christmas cards.
It has happened again, folks.
I have made handmade Christmas cards since 2001, but have not affixed anything remotely three-dimensional on the front of them…until this year. I’m not sure why I thought 2020 would be the year to revive the art form; I think I was merely thinking about how my mailing list friends, family, and Pilgrimage Outfitters deserved a card with a bit more effort and personal touch in a year like this.
So I made folded-paper angels. Lots and lots of them. Out of pages of an old beat-up hymnal that had been my grandmother’s. Then I stuck them on cards, added in a double-newsletter, and, like Noah’s birds or something, put sixty of them in the mail.
Then they started winging their way back here. But not all of them.
The ones that came back had been stamped with a very specific stamp declaring that they were “non-machineable” and required an additional $0.45 postage, each. They all seemed to be returning from somewhere roughly in my own vicinity, which made me suspicious that there was just one curmudgeonly (or very new) postal worker who was in danger of “going postal” (is that even a phrase anymore?), was annoyed by the rather thicker-than-usual envelopes, and was sending them back out of spite.
But, I didn’t know this for sure, did I? I could take a chance and throw the other 300 in the mail without additional postage and hope most of them would make it–because some of them had. But then what if I got flooded with most of them back? Plus, like the birthday candles all those years ago, some of them were coming back a bit smushed.
So I loaded everything I had (including the returned cards) into a giant box, and hied myself off, mask on, to one of the larger City post offices. The young woman behind the counter weighed an envelope. “Well,” she said, “it’s not too heavy for just one stamp. But it is going to get stuck in the machines. You only need 15 cents each to cover it, though. Not an additional 45!”
“Well then,” I said, sort of disappointed (additional postage!) but also relieved (not 45 cents!), “Do you sell 15-cent stamps?”
“Yep,” she said, and counted out enough sheets for 300 more cards…plus a few more for the cards I was resending. I took the stamps back to the box in my car and began affixing them. I had not seen 15-cent stamps before. They were differently patriotic than regular generic US stamps–eight little faceless heads with excessively tall “Uncle Sam” hats. Underneath the faceless figures were the words, “Additional Dunce.”
Additional dunce? I asked myself.
I think it took about 15 minutes for me to realize that my eyes are older than even I realized and it said “Additional Ounce.” And then another 45 minutes for me to get all those additional stamps on the ready-to-go cards. I’m pretty sure I was the dunce in this scenario. I’m not sure we needed any additional ones.