In another month, my wife and I will be celebrating an anniversary of sorts. We moved into our current home eleven years ago, and even though we built the house together—our second—it didn’t feel as if it was ours until I put a mailbox out by the road. It’s always fun to get that first piece of mail at a new house, and that doesn’t happen without a mailbox.
My first thought was that I wanted ours to blend in with the rest of the mailboxes, but when I looked at the rest of the mailboxes on the street, each of them was worse than the next. Perched at the end of ten, long driveways, the mailboxes were lopsided and crooked and seemed as if they were cheesy afterthoughts rather than a well thought out plan. I wondered how all of these people could build such beautiful homes, yet have a mailbox and post that looked as if spiteful vandals installed them in the middle of the night.
Usually, when a person buys a house, they inherit whatever mailbox the former owners have left behind. The old mail stops coming one day and new mail starts the next, and it all goes in the same box. If I had to guess, a house that is a hundred years old has likely had no more than four or five mailboxes, if that. It’s all very efficient, and the mail carrier certainly doesn’t care what sort of mailbox the mail goes into as long as it has that embossed approval from the postmaster general somewhere on the box.
A week or so before we moved in, I made a classic mailbox post, being careful to notch the arm on which the box would sit so that it was at a perfect ninety degrees to the post. I capped the blunt end of the post with a copper finial and attached a hearty, steel mailbox to the arm. A hole was dug below the frost line and the post went in. Braces were attached and concrete was mixed, and there it was. Two days after the post went in, the braces came off and it stood proud against a sea of kittywampus posts that looked as if a hurricane tore through the neighborhood. I honestly have no idea how the mail stays in those boxes. Maybe gravity is afraid of the U.S. postal authority.
Shortly after our mailbox went up, the carrier for the free weekly paper screwed an ugly PVC tube to my mailbox post. I unscrewed it and zip-tied it to a rack in the garage and used it to hold stakes. I’m still not sure who reads these things. They’re delivered on Saturday, and by Monday; they’re blowing down the street like tumbleweeds, although Mrs. G. picked a fragment out of one of our bushes last week and saw an ad for the upcoming Alpaca Country Trail. That sounds interesting.
I begrudgingly accepted the tube for the regular newspaper because the only other option was to have the paper hurled off into the front yard, which would be a bit of a pain in the winter. I made my peace with their tube, as did the neighborhood birds, all of which have found this horrid gray canister to be the perfect place to take a crap. I swear there are docks on the lake with less bird poop on them than my newspaper tube.
Everything went along fine until my across-the-street neighbors had a party for one of their kids a few years ago. As the shindig wrapped up and people began to leave, one of the guests backed into our mailbox post with her gigantic SUV, a Ford Landmass XL, and cracked the four-by-four mailbox post. I didn’t see it happen, but she politely came up our driveway and rang the doorbell to tell me about it. Our neighbor was on her heels and said, “Oh, he’s a builder. He can fix it,” because of course, I have the ability to mend broken wood. She felt bad about what occurred and her gargantuan SUV had a little ding in the bumper, but accidents happen, and it wasn’t the end of the world.
The post was more or less fine, but the crack sent the top third of the stake listing off to the east and it got worse over time as the elements took their toll on the wood. It still looked marginally better than the other mailboxes on the street, but it started to bug me that it was curved, like a banana.
I thought about sawing off the broken part of the old post, making a new mailbox rig and slipping it over the still plumb post nubbin. This would have saved me the hard part of digging another hole through the gravel and drought-hardened soil next to the gutter, but I priced out the material I wanted and it was ridiculous. This idea sat in my head for most of the summer, since our wonky mailbox post only irritated me when I went out to get the mail, get the newspaper, mowed the lawn, weed-whacked around the post, walked the trashcan down to the curb or drove out or into the driveway. So pretty much always.
I finally Googled “mailbox posts” and found a bronze-colored steel post online, which looked better than anything I could make and would have absolutely zero maintenance, so I bought it along with a new, bigger mailbox that matched the post. Now our magazines will fit flat in the mailbox.
As soon as I’m done writing this, I’ll assemble the new setup and put it and whatever tools I’ll need on the tailgate of the truck, head down the driveway, and get to work. In theory, all I’ll have to do is saw off the broken part of the old post, which will leave a stump onto which I’ll slip the spiffy new post, and then bolt it all together.
My personal style leans towards minimalist, and as the new post and box is devoid of any needless frippery, I’ll enjoy it as much as any man can enjoy a mailbox—at least until the snowplow comes down the street in a few months and shoves the entire thing off to the next town. If that happens, I’ll concede defeat and bolt a ten-dollar plastic box on a tree branch and shove it into a drywall bucket full of concrete. Even with a branch in a drywall bucket, it’ll still look better than at least half of the mailboxes around here.
The new post and mailbox were installed without a hitch. Mrs. G. ordered some Craftsman-style sticky numbers from Etsy, so once those come in, I’ll take off the mailbox and let her do her thing with the new numbers. That’s a pet peeve of mine—mailboxes without house numbers.
Oh, the newspaper tube never made the cut. I held it up to the new post and it looked about as appropriate as yoga pants on a nun. The truth is that I seldom read a physical newspaper. Any news I get, I get online. By the time the newspaper arrives, I’ve already read about something more current. Old habits, I guess, but more likely the Sunday coupons, which my wife clips and piles up on the kitchen counter next to our landline phone. I guess I’m still stuck between two generations of technology, but that newspaper tube was hideous. Time to move on and ditch the paper-paper.