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It's a new year. Or so our Gregorian calendar tells us. Should we believe it? Are we really in 2019 or is it fake news?

After all, the calendar we use in much of the modern world isn't all that modern and it's not tied to actual events of the solar system, the ultimate timekeeper. Perhaps we should start a new year at the winter solstice like the Persians, whose calendar is accurate to one second per year. Or follow the Mayans' version, twice as accurate as our drug store calendars.

Though introduced by Pope Gregory XIII way back in 1582 C.E. (A.D. in "oldspeak") we know other, earlier calendars are more precise because, for one, astronomer Carl Sagan told us so. At least a billion times.

In 1978: The genius of those crafty Mayans' stone-carved calendars escaped me while climbing Tikal temples in Guatemala during younger, lither days. Maybe there's something to those "Chariots of the Gods" theories. On holiday, sipping Coronas con lima on Cancun beaches, ancient astronauts taught chronological technology to Mesoamericans.

After our adventure in the ruins and a night spent in huts on stilts, my expedition party (ex-wife and her cousins) had an issue with our own sky chariot. The port engine on the aged Aviateca DC-3 wouldn't start. After the pilot and mechanic consulted the manual stowed in the forward coat rack, the engine finally shuddered to life, spewing smoke from the cowling.

My cousin-in-law was a nervous wreck, but I was pumped. Years ahead of Harrison Ford, I was Indiana Jones conquering temples of doom! With both engines roaring, the craft lifted off in a cloud of dust and banked over dense jungle hiding eons-old secrets. That week had indeed been filled with red letter days.

So it goes tracking time and space using old Gregory's guide. Days, months and years roll by as we check off things done and yet to do: record vacation memories, celebrate birthdays, roll refuse cans to the curb, pay bills, renew tags on the Mercury Comet and mourn our dead.

In 2018: A tad melancholic, I made a final trip to the Louisiana hometown post office before the family box would close Dec. 31. Though the post office had moved twice, P.O. Box 328, Covington, La., was our business and personal address since circa 1952 when my parents opened their feed store.

I recalled trips with Mother to the first post office I knew -- a stately 1938 structure with a New Deal mural above the postmaster's office. The filigreed, brass mailboxes had die-cast numbers. They locked with a distinct "clunk" echoing across terrazzo floors. The building smelled of cigars, smoked by a blind man overseeing the lobby newsstand. He knew you'd paid the correct amount for a newspaper or Hershey bar by the specific "clinks" in the metal till next to his ash tray.

In a shadow box in my Arkansas home, I have that original box door. The postmaster sold obsolete doors to subscribers: Timeless brass tossed aside for sterile, faceless aluminum. I opened the door. As expected, nothing was within. Long gone were days when "328" overflowed with business and personal mail. Invoices came from routine places like Chicago and Atlanta, but some not so usual for tulip bulbs from Amsterdam, sisal baling twine from the Mexican Yucatan and peat moss bales from Ireland.

I stared at the empty box and remembered childhood cereal box top and Ovaltine lid redemptions arriving -- a Captain Midnight decoder ring, a water-powered rocket ship and tiny frogmen tub toys, to name a few. In junior high, correspondence included Weekly Reader pen pals in Japan and Tennessee. And in high school, my Baylor University acceptance letter and then dorm room assignment card arrived at this box address. Gene, from Lisbon, Portugal, in Western Europe and Royce, from Snyder in West Texas would be my roommates from faraway places.

After our freshman year, Gene returned to Portugal for the summer. During a family vacation to France he sent me an Eiffel Tower post card addressed only as: "Ted Talley, Covington, Louisiana." Neither "USA" nor "États-Unis" did he include. Fortunately, some La Poste employee knew French history and forwarded it to a former colony.

I thought about that postcard and chuckled, closing the postal box door for the last time. Of all the dead letter offices in the world where it might have landed, it was delivered to me across sea and shore on the strength of four words. My presence in the cosmos was validated.

Commentary on 01/10/2019

Print Headline: Memories delivered through postal box

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