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and unknown Jimmy Carter was quietly walking across the bicentennial America to the White House, the twin towers of the World Trade Center had stood for three years, and a first class postage stamp cost 13 cents. The next day, following my father's funeral at Cincinnati's Weil Funeral Home, an anonymous police officer touched my heart forever, and I remembered a postal services supervisor who had come to our house years earlier with a gentle admonition for my immigrant dad. I remember now, in an era of economic anxiety, fear, and not a little xenophobia: My father's spirit was buoyed by patriotic participation, ranging from baseball to voting to his excitement about posting a letter to a friend with a fresh new stamp. He got a little confused, however, late in the 1960's, when he brought home a batch of green trading stamps after a shopping spree for his favorite things--automotive parts. They were called, in fact, "Green Stamps," and my immigrant dad put one of each of the four letters he was sending out that day. Two days later, the uniformed U.S. Mail official came by with a twinkle in his eye but duty in his demeanor. My parents were nervous at first but the postman assured them that they were not in trouble. We all sat down in the small living room as the man spoke: "Mr. Kamin, you have wonderful handwriting and I'm glad you printed your return address so clearly on these letters. But these green stamps are, well, not for postage. I know you meant well, sir. These are trading stamps that you put in books for use at a redemption center." He explained about the redemption center and then presented my red-faced father with four 13-cent stamps. "Here. These are gifts from the United States Government. You are a fine citizen." My father never looked more relieved or proud--even on the day he received his Master's Degree in Aerospace Science from the University of Cincinnati. He would also have been very proud if he could have seen the uniformed police officer, with the flag embossed on his sleeve, sitting atop his motorcycle on March 3, 1976, as the hearse bearing my father's plain pine box slowly passed by the Weil exit onto Reading Road in Cincinnati. I watched and wept as the officer, also in his 40s, a personal universe away from the short life of my troubled and departed dad, slowly raised his right hand in salute. There was no reason to do it, I thought, but for the quiet discipline of honor and respect that transcends all traditions. Some 34 years later, we grown-up naturalized Americans, many of whom have lost the parents who got us here, protect our own children from terror and hatred, governmental cynicism, and poor social manners that prevail in schools and stores and across the Internet.
Writing a letter with a posted stamp is a lost art. Strange faces are often assumed to bring dangerous agendas. I hold on to my father's journals of poetry, along with my respect for words, stamps, and salutes that inform me, along with my father's memory. Ben Kamin is one of America's best known rabbis, a multicultural spiritualist, NYT Op-ed contributor and author of seven books, including his latest, "NOTHING LIKE SUNSHINE: A Story in the Aftermath of the MLK Assassination." He is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist. To find out more about Ben, go to: www.benkamin.com More Ben Kamin articles, click here.
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