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Ritzville Post Office – 210 N Washington St, Ritzville, WA 99169

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.

This inscription was craved into the entrance frieze of the James A. Farley Post Office in New York City which opened in 1912 and was never the official motto of the United States Postal Service. Instead this text was selected by William Mitchell Kendall of the architectural firm, McKim, Mead, & White, that designed the building. The phrase itself is a translation by Professor George H. Palmer of Harvard University from a description of the Persian mounted courier system by Herodotus, a Greek historian, from 500 B.C.

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Historically, the impact the United States Postal Service (USPS) had on our lives is difficult to overstate. Even though its role is somewhat diminished because of electronic communications and global package delivery firms, we still interact with this service almost daily for our entire lives.

Birth certificates, report cards, diplomas, marriage certificates, and death certificates too, can and do arrive in the mail. Tax forms, insurance forms, medical forms, enrollment forms, financial statements, and bills fill your mail box. Even love letters, break up letters, Grandmother’s letters with XOXOs find their way to our mail boxes and our hearts. And almost daily, much to my annoyance, the junk mail pours in, a testament to the efficiency and ubiquity of the USPS.

That ubiquity we take for granted. Not once in my life was I ever concerned if where I was living or moving too would have mail service; rather I simply assumed that there would be a post office. I once met a homeless person, a person without a fixed address, who was still able to receive mail and packages through general delivery.

In small towns where everyone has a post office box and must pick up their mail the post office becomes a defacto place to swap small town news and gossip.

On occasion when I lived with my Grandparents, my Grandfather and I would jump in the truck and drive the 4 or 5 blocks to get the mail and afterwards we would stop by the hardware store, owned by his life long friend, Pete Perella. There I would drift off while listening to them talk about screws, plumbing parts, and being young men.

When the stories were especially tasty, Pete would pull out a bottle of whiskey from the bottom drawer of his desk and pour us each a shot and if I was very quiet I was able to hear them wink at each other and whisper old girlfriend’s names.

Such is the necessity of the mail.

Copyright 2015 – Katherine Johnson – All Rights Reserved

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