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by Frank Womble

Completing a Postmaster's Appointed Rounds

"…according to the number of days of which the entire journey consists, so many horses and men are set at intervals, each man and horse appointed for a day's journey. These neither snow nor rain nor heat nor darkness of night prevents from accomplishing each one the task proposed to him, with the very utmost speed." [1] 

My father collected postage stamps.

There is nothing unusual about this. Stamp collecting is one of the world's most popular hobbies, with perhaps 20 million collectors in the United States alone. [2]  He started collecting stamps when I was in grade school. I tried for a short time too, but soon dropped it in favor of the myriad other interests of adolescence.

Dad was a postal employee for 34 years and a postmaster for 20. He was a familiar presence behind the post office counter in our small town, a tall man in a windbreaker jacket with an easy manner and a ready sense of humor, as reliable as the daily mail. Town residents even received mail on Sundays because he regularly stopped at the post office before going to church, sorted the mail that had arrived on Saturday night and posted letters to the mailboxes. When he retired in 1983, an article in the county newspaper stated that his main concern the last day on the job was simply to ensure that the mail was delivered on time.

I don't remember him ever talking about stamps or collecting them during retirement. Shortly after he died in January 2005, we discovered a box on the upper shelf of his bedroom closet. Inside were haphazardly stacked stamps that had been put there long ago and forgotten. Years of improper storage had taken their toll; many were adhered together. The box contained large numbers of five, six, and eight-cent stamps, along with fewer tens, thirteens, fifteens, eighteens and twenties. They covered a time span from January 7, 1963 when First Class postage was increased to five cents to February 17, 1985 when it was increased to 22 cents. [3]  There was no discernable theme, with the exception that the American Bicentennial was well represented. It was merely stamps – hundreds of them. In the bottom of the box were stamp albums, all unused.

Most postage stamps, even older ones in very good condition, are not rare and have little monetary value. An acquaintance who regularly sells stamps on eBay offered to purchase the damaged ones for 50 percent of face value and the undamaged ones for 70 to 80 percent. My first inclination was to deliver them all promptly to him and forget about them.

Instead, I started using them for postage. Last year I posted all the thirteens, three at a time. Now a fifteen, an eighteen, and a six grace my letters. Indian Art goes out alongside the Olympics 1980 and Hemisfair '68; Edna St. Vincent Millay accompanies John Steinbeck and Grandma Moses; Save Woodland Habitats is juxtaposed with Save Our Cities and Coral Reefs. When the First Class rate goes up to forty-two cents in May, I will start squeezing seven six-cent stamps on each envelope.

While the collection lasts I dispatch them to all and sundry, thereby fulfilling their original purpose. Some are addressed to recipients in my hometown and pass through my dad's old post office where I'm sure they are delivered without delay.

I like to think Dad would be pleased.


1. Herodotus, The History of Herodotus, Volume II, under Book VIII, The Eighth Book of the Histories, Called Urania, 98. George Campbell Macaulay, translator. Project Gutenberg, (accessed February 14, 2007). Herodotus refers to the ancient courier service of the Persian Empire. The unofficial creed of the U.S. Postal Service is derived from this passage.

2. Wikipedia contributors, "Stamp Collecting," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed February 14, 2007).

3. Wikipedia contributors, "History of United States Postal Service Rates," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed February 14, 2007).

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Articles in this Issue

What the Stones Remember, by Patrick Lane
Our Dog Riley, by Emily Taylor
My Dad, by David Caplan
The Polish Estate in Germany, by Fred Bruemmer
Burn, by Frank Huyler
Communications, by Frank Womble
Cinematography, by David Lynch
Biology, by Allan Kellehear
February 2007


Frank Womble grew up in Rich Square, North Carolina. He lives in Suffolk, Virginia on Knott's Creek with his wife Gloria. This is his second submission to LOST magazine.

Where loss is found.

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