From Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul


The family mailbox stood at the end of the half-mile-long lane. In tall, proud white capital letters it announced to all who passed by: BURRES. To us children, that metal container on a post was a source of endless anticipation and independence, and a promise of unconditional love.

Our mother created this sense of adventure for us, probably not inadvertently. She believed children needed to learn things. To Mom, everything was a teachable moment, and she was a master teacher.

Each day around noontime, my mother would walk down the lane to get the mail. When we children saw her head for the lane on Saturdays, we would drop our activities and scurry to join her, as would the dog member of the family. Mom found great pleasure in her children’s company, happily and playfully greeting us as we joined her. The half-mile trek to and from the mailbox was a long way for short legs, but well worth it. During these trips, her mood was reliably joyous. This was an opportunity for us to bask in our mother’s love.

Once we arrived at the mailbox, Mom would pick out the mail and, while sorting through it, announce if mail had arrived for any of the children—though she wouldn’t give out the names of just who among us had received mail. By doing it this way, she kept all of us children in suspense until we reached the house, at which time she would give us our individual mail. Mother taught us to respect each other’s privacy, and to be very good sports about who did and did not receive mail on any given day. “Here,” she would say, “this belongs to you.” We were all allowed to open the mail that came in our names without Mom looking over our shoulders.

Surprisingly, each child received mail from time to time. Even more surprisingly, each child received mail in fairly equal quantities. Sometimes a magazine arrived in a child’s name; sometimes a note from an aunt, uncle, grandma, grandpa or Sunday School teacher (who was also our neighbor and Mom’s good friend). No child was left wanting. Even junk mail arrived on cue. It didn’t matter whether it was written by a person or by a machine, getting mail with your name on it was exciting and esteeming.

The practice of us children getting to open our own mail was followed from the day I was old enough to know what mail was, until the day I left home. I didn’t understand until I was much older that while we children were caught up in the fun of receiving mail, Mother had a bigger agenda.

On those brief strolls, Mom would sometimes tell us a story made up to fit the moment. At other times, she used the walk to teach us about God. Sometimes these were the same. Mom used every opportunity to help us become aware of the obvious miracles of creation. There wasn’t a bird or bee, or any flora or fauna that went unnoticed. The fascinating habits of animals on the ground or in the air; the intricacy and beauty in the colors and shapes and fragrances of flowers; how the bees fly to these flowers to gather their pollen; the sun with its endless power to warm and give brilliant light; all were pointed out to us for appreciation.

We adored her. She was our everything. This was a joyous woman, an eternal optimist, always smiling, always humming, her words punctuated with an easy flowing laughter that caused her to toss her long, soft brown hair over her shoulders.

And so it is that the sight of mailboxes, especially those at the end of long lanes, retains special meaning for me. They remind me of my mother’s love and the values and beliefs she so lovingly conveyed. She embodied joy, love and respect, and taught these lessons every day.

Bettie B. Youngs

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