The statute of limitations is now past so I can divulge details of a federal offence which occurred a number of years ago.
My mother rarely went to the post office, she usually sent my brothers or me into town to collect our mail. One summer day Jim and I went together on this errand and found ourselves at the post office during the lunch hour, with the postmaster’s window pulled down and no one around. We adeptly twisted the dial and clicked opened our mailbox, number 119, the highest number located in lowest corner on the wall. Then, because we were seven and ten and unsupervised, we started trying to open the other 118 boxes. We discovered that if you turned the dial while pushing against the little release knob, you could 'feel' when the combination clicked. The first couple of boxes took us several minutes to master, but within 20 minutes, we had 7 rows of 17 little, brass and glass doors unlocked and all standing at an 90º angle to the wall. At that exact moment, Howard Hardy, the Postmaster walked in from his lunch break.
Jim and I knew we shouldn't have been messing around, but were shocked at Mr. Hardy's reaction. He was normally a very congenial, kind and soft-spoken man, but on this occasion, his face turned deep red, his voice grew strident; he bellowed: "No one except a certified mail carrier is allowed to handle the US mail." Then he screeched: "It is a FEDERAL CRIME for anyone to mess with the mail." We pointed out we had not touched a single letter; we had only opened the boxes. Our argument did nothing to calm Mr. Hardy or persuade him of our innocence. His verbal tirade went on as he considered what to do with us.
After exhausting his voice, Postmaster Hardy croaked at us to close all the mailboxes, turn each dial at least one full rotation, promise to never, ever do that again, and sent us home. Jim and I retrieved our own letters and started down Main Street with our heads hanging down and our feet dragging along the ground. You never saw such a pair of contrite federal offenders.
For the rest of the years I lived in Hinckley, I shirked mail duty whenever possible. When forced to do that job, I dashed in, grabbed it quickly and ducked back out hoping to not be seen. Even with limited dealings with mailboxes, my fingers itched to turn those tiny, brass dials. I craved to open those little, windowed doors, but because of the pledge I had made, I never opened another persons' mailbox again. Who knows what I may have become if a dedicated postal worker had not put an end to a terrible tendency?
Perhaps next time you are in a post office, you could thumb through those 'wanted' posters and if you flip back far enough, maybe you’ll come across the yellowing, tattered page with 10- and 7-year-old faces of the federal mail criminals who broke into over a hundred mailboxes in their scandalous career one summer day in 1972.