When the mail becomes too much

Published 11:00 pm Friday, June 22, 2012

When I was little, getting the mail was a treat. I remember trips to the Post Office in our little town of Gautier, Miss. – a white clapboard house surrounded by oak trees draped in Spanish moss. My dad always made the trip a treat. If I was lucky the mail might include a Highlights magazine or, on truly special dates, a slip that sent us to the window for a package: perhaps a book-of-the-month selection or something from a far-away relative.

As a high-schooler, I made a daily trip to our mailbox at the end of the driveway, always looking for the latest issue of a magazine or a letter from an out-of-state friend.

Every evening, when he came home from work, my dad would look through the day’s mail, offering a running commentary along the way.

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At 85, “the mail” still dictates the rhythm of my father’s life: He makes a daily trip to the mailbox with his trusty dog at his side. And every morning he offers a running commentary during our phone conversation: “I just don’t know what to do with all this stuff. I’ll never get it all opened. I’ve got stacks and stacks of it everywhere … I can’t even see my kitchen table any more.”

He exaggerates but not by much.

My father, like so many other senior citizens, is inundated with mail solicitations. He gets dozens each week, and reads the envelopes as he plunders the stacks: “The American Heart Association. World War II Veterans. Veterans of Foreign Wars. American Cancer Society. World Wildlife Fund. Humane Society. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Save the Chimps. Save the Whales. Save the starving children in Africa … I don’t know who I’m not saving.”

He never realized that $10 donation to the ASPCA or the $25 annual gift to the American Cancer Society would land him on scores of other solicitation lists.

With them come the “free gifts”: personalized address labels and notepads; pens and calculators; greeting cards and reusable shopping bags; blankets; dream catchers; and calendars. Oh the calendars. In January he filled a milk crate with free calendars, insisting I bring them back to the office “just in case you need them.”

Like so many in his generation, Dad doesn’t part easily with “gifts.” He might need that pen, or those 30 notepads, or the stacks of free greeting cards he’ll never use. Nor does he part easily with the solicitations, thinking he needs to touch each one, open it and consider the request. What results is stacks of stuff that he says will give him “hydrophobia if I don’t get it all cleaned up.”

It’s not just George, though. A friend this week shared a similar story about her mother, who was sending donations to the many charities who asked.

“I’ve just started having the mail delivered to my house,” she said. “I throw it in the trash before she ever sees it.”

It is, she said, as if the charities are preying on the elderly.

She’s right, of course. A quick Internet search reveals dozens of articles about protecting the elderly from scams and solicitations. With charities spending billions of dollars each year on fund-raising – for many, as much of 40 percent of their total budgets – no end appears in sight.

And that means folks like my dad will continue to fight the battle of the (mail) bulge every day.

Stacy G. Graning is publisher of The Messenger. Contact her at stacy.graning@troymessenger.com.