I was nineteen and scanned the wall of boxes for my assigned number. I found it quickly after the other students moved aside. My fingers hastily worked the combination, and I peered through the little window in the box. I could see one, maybe two, envelopes, a couple fliers, and maybe... I swung the little door open and reached inside. Yessss! A pink slip!
|The only picture I took of the entire tour-- the wall of mail boxes.|
"When I was in college," I told my daughter, opening with that qualifier, not for the first time that day, "we got a pink slip in our box if we had a package. Your worse day could suddenly change if there was one of those in your box!" The tour guide continued in her perky tone as I wandered back in my memory.
No bigger than a memo slip, Pepto-Bismol pink, that piece of paper held the power to make an entire day. If I got one, I'd quickly rush to the mail window and hand the worker my slip. Why did she move so slowly? I watched her disappear behind the wall. Anxious students in the queue behind me shifted feet, impatiently waiting their turn, gripping their own amazing pink slips. Finally. She rounded the corner. I glued my eyes on the box in her hands. That was mine!
"Thank you," I said as I took the package, addressed to me in my mother's handwriting. I tucked it under my arm. Half the fun would be carrying it to my next class where I knew other students would stare at it with envy. A box from home meant cookies and goodies to share with dorm mates, maybe a new shirt or pair of earrings Mom had picked up on her last shopping trip, and probably a little cash tucked into a new pair of socks-- a little extra spending money treat. I couldn't wait to get back to my dorm room and rip into it, and yet waiting and wondering what was inside was delicious. In the meantime, there was a letter from a high school friend written on lined notebook paper to read and one from my grandpa written in his slightly shaky hand writing on sheets of white stationery. He and I had recently started exchanging shy letters with each other, and I relished the opportunity to get to know him a bit better.
"We don't do pink slips anymore." The tour guide must have overheard my comment, bringing me back to the present. "Now we will send you an email if you have a package." She smiled at the small group of students and parents.
No pink slip? Where was the fun in that? But then I thought over the four years my son was in college. I sent him packages, but I don't know if we ever exchanged a single, real, hand-written letter. He was more likely to respond to me in a quick text or email than ever sit down and write a real letter. In fact, I could hardly remember the last time I wrote a real letter to anyone. How sad.
I realized, as we walked away from the beloved mail room of my alma mater and on to the cafe, serving lattes and frappuccinos (that wasn't there when I attended this college, I hastily pointed out, yet again, to my daughter) that the art of letter writing was quickly dying. What will future biographers use to research the hearts and stories of people's lives? A transitory email that no longer exists? A text message lost in the cell phone universe? It's all so temporary and fleeting anymore. No longer will there be a box of letters hidden beneath the cedar-scented blankets of a hope chest, a written history of someone's life and relationships. My kids Skype with their long distance friends. We exchanged letters and carefully posed pictures (you didn't want to waste the film on your 110 cartridge by making a funny face).
The campus has changed in so many ways. Most of the changes, including a state-of-the-art music performance hall, and gorgeous new wellness center, are welcomed, a true enticement for future students. But, I thought as I glanced one final time at the mail room before we left the building, I'm not sure all changes are for the best.