Package Making

My family has always been scattered across the Atlantic and Continental US. For much of my life, my parents and sister lived in France, while I lived in the States. Later, I moved to France, while another sister and some of her progeny remained. A niece moved to England.

Christmas and birthdays are occasions that require interaction with the Postal Services. Looking back, I remember innumerable packages that needed to be made.

My father, who had a nautical heritage, always was finicky about the knots he used for securing his boxes to me. I picked up the practice, until the USPS disallowed string. Later, they disallowed tape, but permitted string again. Visits at the Post Office were full of serendipity that way. I learned to bring my supplies with me, to enable repacking there.

Bubble wrap: All year, I’d collect ( I still do) this precious commodity. For many years I’d send fragile and perishable Christmas cookies to family abroad. This required also finding metal tins, something that became more and more difficult to buy.

Labelling is done in waterproof ink, inside and out (you never know what might happen to the outside wrapping, and the package is always susceptible to invasion by customs officers). I hopefully depended on the kindness of strangers and glued on “Fragile” stickers.

Once at the PO window, one is given a form to fill out (press hard for the triplicates!) for the addressee, and a separate one for Customs. One steps aside to complete the task, and hopes to jump the line once the task is done. There is always that hesitation about the value of the contents: Put the real value? Or put “No Value” in the hopes of discouraging theft. And the Contents: I am always annoyed at having to disclose what’s inside a gift-wrapped package.

There’s another decision that’s hard to face: If undeliverable, what gets done to this precious package. Checking off “abandon” is always a sad moment.

Finally, there is the decision about the speed of conveyance. Once upon a time, there was “Surface” or “Book Rate”. No longer. Everything now goes “Par Avion”. You can splurge for speedy one, or three-day delivery.

For sending a painting, I need to construct a custom box. I order carefully measured and cut particle board, and reinforce the sides with balsa wood. Metal corners protect the corners (I’ve seen how luggage is dropped from the belly of a plane).

If all goes as planned someone in my family will receive either the package itself, or a “While You Were Out” post-it on their mailbox. Using the postal service always requires a leap of faith, and as in other belief systems, there’s a Purgatory and the other place.

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