My mom is a stamp collector.

Not a stamp collector in the classic sense of stamp collecting — she doesn’t have hardbound collector’s albums with acid-free sleeves and little stamp tongs — but a stamp collector in the sense that she collects certain stamps for specific mailing purposes.

Her collection came to light after a recent Sunday dinner. The dishes had been cleared, everyone was too full to move, and for reasons that escape me, the conversation turned to the recent postage increase. Before long, we were discussing all the different designs available. I was lamenting the fact that the ones I most want are never in stock.

That’s when Mom disappeared into the other room and returned with a large folder of stamps.

The pocket on the left side of the folder housed Dad’s stamps. He was one of the first adopters when the post office first offered a print-at-home option, evidenced by the abundance of oversized and, frankly, not-that-nice-to-look-at stamps.

Others in that left side pocket were Mom’s rejects — the stamps deemed unsuitable for providing postage for her mail — including a book of floral stamps that Dad brought home one time. Mom disliked them so much that she even refused to stamp bills with them. If there were an island of misfit stamps, the left side pocket would be that island.

The pocket on the right side of the folder, though, that was the good side.

Multiple opaque envelopes held a variety of unique, and dare I say, attractive stamps, suitable for any and every occasion.

Mom had Valentine stamps, Barnum and Bailey Circus stamps, and magic stamps. She had solar eclipse stamps, celebration stamps, stamps with balloons, stamps with cute little dolls, and stamps with pumpkins.

She even had the Mister Rogers stamps I’d unsuccessfully tried to get my hands on.

As we went through her collection, she explained how each stamp is assigned a specific job to do, depending on the message she wishes to convey. A birthday card might get a celebration stamp for example. A ‘thinking of you’ card might get a ‘Love’ stamp or a stamp with birds on it.

Stamps are not to be sent out of season, either — putting a spring-themed stamp on anything mailed after May would be the equivalent of wearing white after Labor Day. And a true Southern woman would never cross that line. Here’s where things get tricky, though. Certain Christmas stamps may be used until March, especially if images of snowmen are involved. Even Santa stamps can be sent out in the month or so following Christmas, except in years that postage rates rise.

Even the classic Forever Flag stamps have a job to do, and should only accompany official correspondence such as bills.

All in all, it was an enlightening look into the inner workings of my mother’s perpetual attention to detail. It was a good lesson that postage stamps are potentially as important as the card or letter they accompany. And it’s a reminder to us all that if we want the best stamps, we’re going to have to beat Mom to the post office.

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Beth Underwood is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines. She shares stories of everyday life that entertain, inspire, and encourage others. Her books include Gravity, a narrative nonfiction account of a small group of Tennessee National Guardsmen, and Talk Bourbon to Me, a lighthearted look at Kentucky’s native spirit. Drop her a line at beth@bethwrightunderwood.com, or visit her website at bethwrightunderwood.com.

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