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Senior Memoirs Group -- May 2008

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  • Thomas E. Hepler
    Thomas E. Hepler May 2008, Senior Memoirs Writing Group MAIL CALL “Did it come?” was the clarion call to my mother that her oldest son had arrived for
    Message 1 of 1 , May 26, 2008
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      Thomas E. Hepler
      May 2008, Senior Memoirs Writing Group

      MAIL CALL

      “Did it come?” was the clarion call to my mother that her oldest son had
      arrived for lunch in my early grade school days. At least, that was the
      way I did it when I was expecting something important in the mail. At
      other times, I have no idea how my arrival was announced. The shout
      would be repeated in the late afternoon as well. In those days we had
      two mail deliveries a day, about 10 in the morning and again around 2:30
      in the afternoon. Being disappointed twice a day was all forgotten when
      whatever I was waiting for finally arrived.

      What was so important? It could have been my Little Orphan Annie
      decoding device. Ten cents and a few Ovaltine labels, appropriately
      mailed, was all it took. You needed the gadget in order to get a
      heads-up on the next evening’s radio episode. At the conclusion of the
      Orphan Annie show each day, the announcer, in a serious, all-knowing
      voice, would rattle off a series of numbers; two, seventeen, eleven,
      twenty-three, and so on. After jotting down the numbers, I could then
      decipher the message that would reveal some important aspect of the next
      broadcast. At recess the next day, those of us who had the decoder,
      would compare notes and hold it over those who had not ordered or not
      received their Ovaltine contraption. We possessed the secrets.

      The late humorist Jean Shepard did a whole chapter on his Orphan Annie
      experience. To his disappointment, after decoding his first message, it
      instructed him to “drink more Ovaltine.” I never got that message. Nor,
      do I think, did he. But it made for a great story.

      Annie was not the only radio show I fell victim to. Captain Midnight was
      another, as was Jack Armstrong. There had to have been more than a few,
      but I’ve forgotten them. The common denominator was the dime and proof
      of the sponsor’s product, usually a box top or two, followed by anxiety,
      until “it” finally arrived, whatever “it” was, a decoder, a badge, maybe
      even a pin.

      As I got older, I looked forward to the Roxy theatre’s monthly movie
      schedule, mailed on a regular basis. Consequently, it didn’t need a
      “Mom, did it come?” Invariably on time and always anticipated, I checked
      which movies I hoped to see that month. Especially important were the
      Saturday matinees. Charles Starrett as the Durango Kid, The Three
      Muskeeters, and Wild Bill Elliott were top drawer. I was never a fan of
      the singing cowboys, notably Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. Thursday night
      movies were also a favorite. Today they are referred to as “B” movies;
      Sherlock Holmes, The Whistler, Crime Doctor, and Boston Blackie are a
      few that come to mind. Disappointment was rampant when it came to the
      July and August schedules. No movies for me or my friends. Virtually
      every year of my youth, a polio quarantine was imposed, precluding
      youngsters from attending gatherings in those summer months.

      When I reached high school, I might have yelled, “Did it come?” when
      anticipating tickets to Athletics baseball games. Philadelphia was 130
      miles away, but with my mother’saunt lived at 28th and Somerset, a seven
      block walk to Shibe Park. I got there a few times a year, usually
      coinciding with a Saturday game and a Sunday doubleheader. Imagine that,
      a scheduled doubleheader, now as extinct as the dinosaur. I would admire
      those tickets each day anticipating seeing Eddie Joost, Sam Chapman,
      Pete Suder, Phil Marchildon, and the rest of my beloved A’s.

      One piece of anticipated mail never came. I was, and am, even today, the
      consummate Notre Dame football fan. Emil Sitko was one of my all-time
      favorite players. When I was a very young lad, I wrote him a letter in
      care of the university football office. I cannot recall what I wrote, or
      what questions I asked. I had hoped he would become my pen-pal. Many of
      my friends had pen-pals. I didn’t. Do people do that today? I suppose
      email is the modern forum. To the point, Sitko never answered. After a
      few weeks, I came to accept it would never happen. Did I resent it? No,
      he was still a favorite and could do no harm. In the early 1990s, on one
      of my visits to South Bend, IN, while at a football weekend function, I
      met his widow. I introduced myself as one of Emil’s most ardent fans. I
      wanted to ask her why he never answered my letter. I didn’t. Had I, I
      would have sounded like a lunatic, something I do too easily, and far
      too often.

      A periodic mailing my mother resented was an advertisement, disguised as
      a letter, from Capital Finance Services in Pottsville. Why that bothered
      her was something I eventually figured out. She felt that our mailman
      would think it was a dunning letter over an unpaid loan. To fully
      appreciate why that upset her, one need only understand the role of the
      mailman in a small town. He was the eyes and ears of the route he
      served, and he knew every family and many things about them. Mail, even
      unopened, can be very revealing. Our mailman, for as long as I can
      remember, was “Dauber” Casey. I never knew his first name. But to my
      mother, he was more than just the mailman. He was a close friend and
      drinking buddy of her brother, my Uncle Ed. I am certain she thought
      Dauber was telling her brother more than she wanted him to know.

      I cannot overstate the importance of mail to the serviceman. In my four
      years in the Air Force, especially the years I spent overseas during the
      Korean War, I anticipated every mail call. I was rarely disappointed. I
      wrote a lot and received a lot. Catherine Peifer, a girl of interest at
      the time, received the majority of my missives. She kept my letters.
      When I began to write memoirs of my military service, I asked my wife if
      I could have access to them. She readily agreed. At first, I was
      somewhat reluctant to read them. Those letters are over fifty-years old.
      Could I endure my adolescent self? However, they read fine and are a
      great source of material for that part of my life. Only half-completed,
      those military memoirs just surpassed a hundred pages.

      In later years, when I operated a football scouting operation I spent a
      lot of time on the road. On those occasions when I traveled with Jim
      Sabo I noticed something perverse. When we got to our destination, the
      first thing he would do is post mail that he had taken with him. I
      finally confronted him about this predilection. He wanted full value for
      his postage. Mailing a letter in San Francisco or Mobile, Alabama, to a
      Delaware Valley address made the post office work harder for their money
      than had he mailed it from Mt. Laurel. Jim, because of health issues
      doesn’t travel at all anymore. But, when I am making a trip anywhere, I
      ask if he has something to be mailed, and when he does, I take it with
      me to help him in his cause.

      Before I leave the subject of mail, I wish to point out that the two
      deliveries a day I referred to earlier, were reduced to one during WWII
      as part of the war effort. Like every day milk deliveries, the old
      system was never re-instituted. It cost three cents to post a first
      class letter in those days. If one did not seal the letter, and,
      instead, folded the flap inside, the cost was only two cents. This
      month, the cost of a first class letter went to forty-two cents and with
      no indication that it will not increase next year. I visualize a day
      when it will cost a dollar per letter with the proviso that you deliver
      it yourself. The post office’s loss of revenue due, in large part to
      email, is significant. Somehow, in future, government will find a way to
      charge postage on that as well.

      That being said, I enjoy walking to my mail box at the end of my
      driveway each day. I don’t anticipate anything in particular. I am
      rarely, if ever, disappointed.
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