Return to Sender, Address Unknown
This morning I got an email that a royalty check had been returned to my publisher. It was addressed to me, at 936 Mud Bay Road, Haines, AK 99827. Right up front I'll admit that is not my legal address, as there is no home mail delivery in Haines, but I have been using it for years, as I suspect many of my neighbors use similar ones. My post office box number is 936 and I live on Mud Bay Road so I use the combination to receive important mail that I can't get otherwise. (It's not that it gets hand-delivered to my door. Envelopes addressed with the faux street number are still delivered to the PO box, as all mail here is.) The reason for this little game is that big city outfits like publishers and some mail order places, UPS, or even government agencies, won't mail anything to a post office box, and that's all I have. When this has happened before, with the Social Security agency or immigration folks when my daughter Stoli was becoming a citizen, the government, who I believe regulates the postal service and post offices, said the reason why they won't send important documents to post office boxes is that they are insecure and that terrorists use them. Well, in Haines we all get our mail at the post office, which seems secure to me, and I don't think I've met a terrorist there. This policy leaves me little choice but to get creative. Usually, if you send me a Fed Ex, to say, 936 Mud Bay Road, it will come about two weeks later to PO Box 936, and I'll pick it up with my other mail. (Which means you shouldn't spend the kind of money Fed Ex charges and use USPS Express or Priority mail instead. But that's a whole other issue, since many places just don't use the postal service.) So, we all have learned to fudge a little in order to get our mail. My husband does it with the lumberyard, my neighbor does it with her credit card statements. It's part of life in rural Alaska. I make up a kind of common-law street address so my mail will be delivered to my post office box. It usually works, which is why I suspected that perhaps the check that is still in the mail had arrived in town when a postal service inspector was here. I treasure a letter I received this winter from England addressed to "Mrs. Heather Lende, (I'm sure this will reach you!) Haines, Alaska, U.S.A." That one had no numbers at all-- street, PO box or even zip code. But someone, many someones no doubt, along the way, liked the idea of it making it safely through the maze of checkpoints and postal service sorting rooms to its intended desitination. Each time a person, a human being, must have smiled and then passed that letter along. In doing so, they became part of an international small-town. Which is why this morning when I got the electronic mail inquiry about the returned check in its stamped, paper envelope, I told my publisher there must have been a federal crackdown at the Haines post office ordering everyone not to do this little box-number-address-fib-pass-through thing (with a wink-wink to the bureaucrats) anymore. That's too bad, because it is part of small-town life to have a post office that knows who you are and gets your mail to you. At the same time, it's part of small-town life not to get mad at your neighbors who work at the post office and have to follow the rules. Which is why I convinced my check-sender that the Haines post office was very secure, and assured them that in the future, anything mailed to my box number, would, indeed reach me.