In two of our previous posts we chronicled some of our most unusual (yet, when we think back on them, also probably quite “typical”) interactions with the sprawling, labyrinthine bureaucracy that is the United States Postal Service.
There was the time Joan’s order for a stuffed animal was delivered to the wrong address but eventually—no thanks to our local post office—found its way into her arms via the graces of a kind and conscientious neighbor (See “Lil Bub Goes Postal”). https://sixtysixtyblog.wordpress.com/tag/kent-ohio/
And then there’s the tale of “Theo Theokitos, Valued Feline Postal Service Customer,” that provided evidence the USPS can bestow upon us a kind of bureaucratic immortality, an extended paper afterlife that requires no faith in God nor even an abundance of earthly good works. https://sixtysixtyblog.wordpress.com/2014/04/10/theo-theokitos-valued-feline-postal-service-customer/
But now our postal adventures go traveling abroad. Our little story today indicates, perhaps, that there is some universal property accruing to postal services everywhere—a capacity for misdirection and mysterious misrouting. Our new tale involves Scotland, the land of lochs, rugged cliffs, ancient castles, and lonely highland landscapes. It involves a small village Post Office and an unexpected journey around the world.
Back in May of this year we undertook a tour of Scotland and Ireland with our dear friends Brenda and Dave. Our itinerary, beginning in Glasgow, took the four of us to Loch Lomond and Inverary, up along the “Road to the Isles” to the Isle of Skye, and then back over to Loch Ness, with stops at Nairn and Pitlochry before leaving the Highlands and ending our Scottish itinerary with visits to St. Andrews and Edinburgh.
It is in Pitlochry, the largest town in Highland Perthshire, that our postal adventure begins. We were fortunate enough to spend two nights at the nearby Atholl Palace Hotel, built in 1878 as the Athole Hydropathic, a place for the tourists to take the waters and see the Highlands. Except for a couple of wartime incarnations as a school for girls (World War I) and boys (World War II), the Atholl Palace (as it was renamed in 1913) has been in almost continuous use as a hotel for nearly 140 years.
During our pleasant and altogether satisfying two-night visit at the Palace, tucked in between sightseeing, shopping, whiskey tasting, and haggis-eating, Joan decided to take care of some correspondence. Over the course of two nights, Joan diligently wrote and addressed ten specially selected Scottish-themed postcards (with matching highland-themed stamps) to friends and family back home in the United States.
She, trusting the superlative hotel staff to get this correspondence into the UK postal system, left them downstairs with reception before we departed on our final morning. We departed the grand environs of this Scottish baronial landmark, optimistic that our postcards would possibly outpace us and arrive at their respective destinations well before we would, some ten days later on the first of June.
Our trip continued. Crossing the body of Scotland again, we went through Ayrshire to the ferry dock at Cairnryan and left Scotland, floating across the Irish Sea, for the second Irish leg of our tour.
Let us skip ahead a month. It is now June 21st. Not a single one of Joan‘s ten correspondents had mentioned receiving a hand-written, specially curated postcard from Scotland. Joan asked our children if they had received any postcards. No, they said, nothing had arrived from Scotland, although postcards sent later from Ireland were happily received and much appreciated!
A month seemed like a reasonable amount of time for a few postcards to reach their American destinations, so Greg decided to send an email to the Atholl Palace Hotel, just in case the postcards hadn’t been taken to the Pitlochry Post Office for dispatch and were perhaps sitting on a shelf somewhere in the hotel’s grand reception lobby:
Message: Hello, we were guests in May (22-24). When at the hotel we left 10 postcards with international stamps at the reception to be mailed to the USA. They haven't arrived, and it has been a month. Could you check and seeif they are sitting at the desk somewhere? Thank you!
The Hotel, as expected, was cordial and quick to reply to Greg’s query…
Good Evening, Thank you for your email. I am sorry to hear that you have not received your postcards yet. I have searched the desks and reception area but unfortunately have not come across any postcards at all. The reception team usually post any postcards or letters as soon as we receive them so I am quite surprised to hear that they have yet to arrive. At this moment it is just myself on shift and am unable to contact the rest of the team to check if there might have been a delay in sending them or if perhaps they have been put away but I will make sure to speak to the rest of the staff as soon as possible to see if there might be an explanation as to why they have not arrived. I hope this information helps and in the meantime if you do have any further question please do not hesitate to contact the hotel. Kind Regards
Given the very high level of service from the staff, we were not surprised that the postcards had been properly dispatched. But alas, we still had no simple explanation for the missing postcards.
There was little else we could do but wait, and wait, and wait, and all the while hope that the postcards might still somehow reach their destinations. Another month passed, however, and our children assured us, again, that no hand-written and specially curated postcards had arrived.
By August we were pretty much resigned to the fact that the postcards were, as the saying goes, “lost in the mail.” Then another postal mishap occurred. For some inexplicable reason Joan had an anniversary card and letter that she had mailed to our son and daughter-in-law in Oregon returned, slapped with the irksome yellow “RETURN TO SENDER” label. We double-checked, and the card had indeed been addressed correctly. What was going on?
Joan was convinced that the world’s postal systems, both domestic and foreign, had it in for her. This latest failure to deliver was simply a sign confirming some preternatural postal conspiracy to disappear her correspondence.
But then, something quite unexpected! Around the middle of August, the ten lost and quite possibly lonely, Scottish postcards started arriving. They trickled in, one by one, from wherever they had gone and been. First, we heard from friends on the East coast that one had arrived. A few days later, family members in the Midwest received a second and a third. And, then, a week or so later, several postcards sent to the West coast materialized out of the ether. And then, suddenly, they were all accounted for.
The question was—where in the world had they been for three months: in postcard purgatory, in letter limbo, in the land of the lost? Well, the answer is almost as unexpected: the Philippines. Yes, the Philippines!
For some reason—a reason we are quite sure we will never discover—all the postcards had been sent from Pitlochry to the Philippines and then forwarded, perhaps via circuitous postal pathways, to their various destinations in the United States. The postmarks, graciously provided by their recipients, document the strange journey of these wayward cards:
On what long exotic voyage did these ten little missives embark? Did they travel to the Philippines via other countries and cities—rerouted through Berlin, transferred via Bucharest, and forwarded from Calcutta? Did they travel by air transport, mail truck, or boat? Still, when all is said and done, they made it to their intended destinations, and our faith in the world’s postal services has certainly been restored!
There is something satisfying in the midst of this world’s generally increasing dysfunction to realize that in some nameless office in the Clark Freeport Zone northwest of Manila, some equally nameless official of the PHLPOST (the Philippine Postal Corporation) was diligent in his/her duties. How easy and tempting it could have been for some busy and bothered postal worker along the wandering way these post cards took to toss them in the trash. Instead they took the time, made the effort, to reroute them where they needed to go.
A small step for stability and surety in a world that increasingly has too little of either. Maybe there is at least one thing we can depend on.
Ever the curious one, and wanting to know if there were some explanations for their three month disappearance, Joan checked to see if she could email the Pitlochry Post Office. But she couldn’t locate an email address with an online search. So, in September, she crafted a little letter which she then snail mailed to the Pitlochry Post Office. This was not to complain mind you, but to ask politely and a bit humorously if perhaps the Postmaster or Postmistress might have some rational explanation about how such misdirection could have come about. Did Pitlochry postcards routinely travel to America via the Philippines? Or was it purely an accident, a singular someone- threw-the-mail-bag-on-the-wrong-plane kind of circumstance?
As of this moment, we have received no reply from the Pitlochry Post Office. Mayhap the Office is understaffed and too busy to answer. Or maybe the lost postcards of transient lowland tourists are of extremely low priority. But, then again, perhaps Joan’s friendly and inquisitive little postal query is on its own strange journey and will arrive in Pitlochry, via the Philippines, any day now.