We've been hearing a lot about problems with our postal service for quite a while now, beginning during the final year of the Trump presidency and continuing to this moment, when we are repeatedly reminded to mail holiday packages as early as possible and to expect everyday mail to take longer than expected to arrive at its destination for the foreseeable future. How did we come to this? That's a long conversation filled with shared and conflicting opinions. As is usual with me, when I ponder the present my mind goes to television programs of the past that addressed similar situations in the simpler terms of their time. In this case, an episode of the vintage series Lassie that was first seen in 1959 comes to mind. You read that right.
This particular episode, titled The Tree, concerned the efforts of young Timmy (pictured at top) to save his favorite tree -- one rumored to have been planted by Johnny Appleseed. Seems it was going to be destroyed to make room for a new highway.
"They're going to cut down Johnny Appleseed’s tree -- for progress," sighs little Timmy, sounding worried and saddened, but never as obnoxious or disrespectful as any of the kids in television shows since the '80s.
"It's happened before," replies his dad, sounding very matter of fact, but not at all comforting.
Here's where the postal service came into it.
Never one to give up on a good cause, Timmy took it upon himself to write a letter to the President of the United States, asking for help in saving the tree. It fell to Lassie -- the most amazing dog ever -- to bring the letter to the friendly neighborhood postman, who, upon noticing that Timmy had neglected to put a stamp on the envelope, smiled and said, "I'll take care of it!"
Yes, not only did the friendly postman accept an envelope from a dog, he personally put a stamp on it when he saw that Timmy had failed to do so.
In a further test of disbelief, the President of the United States sent an immediate reply to Timmy, informing the boy that he had referred the matter to the Department of the Interior. Naturally, Lassie delivered the president's letter to Timmy, who was standing nervously by as two men were preparing to rip the tree out by its roots. Lassie got there just in the nick of time. The tree was saved! By episode's end, Timmy was thrilled to learn that it would be transplanted to his family's orchard.
I would make a comment here about a sitting president taking the time to do something like this (without alerting the press or sending out a social message carefully crafted to go viral), but I won't. The bit with the postman alone was enough to make me wonder if Lassie was transmitted here from another planet all those years ago rather than broadcast on CBS.
Indeed, if I didn't have dim memories of Lassie reruns from my childhood, I don't think I could be convinced that shows like it had ever been sent out over the air into the living rooms of families across the country. I can't imagine how Nickelodeon or Disney Channel would tell a story like this one today, but I'm reasonably certain there would be a smart-mouthed kid and a befuddled adult somewhere in the mix. Despite his concerns and frustrations, Timmy remained the very model of a respectful young man throughout, the way (most) kids used to be. (I'll bet he grew up to become a postman.)
And despite the obstacles threatening its delivery, the mail moved in a timely manner.
As I have always said, episodes of television series are cultural artifacts. And as such, each one is significant in its own way. The Tree is yet another example of this.
I have to admit, when I hear the mournful Lassie theme at the end, I still choke up a little. Does it spark a longing for a more innocent time? Or does it simply make me aware of the passing of time? (In this case, my time!) And why does that music sound so sad, anyway? That remains one of television's eternal mysteries.
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