I stepped off the ferry in Vineyard Haven one fine morning in 1985 ready to embark on a new chapter that would eventually carry me along for more than three decades. I left city life behind for good and moved to Martha’s Vineyard where I longed to plant trees and a garden, to build a house of my own, to fish and forage, basically things I knew absolutely nothing about.

I bought a used truck, adopted three goats and was soon buying bales of hay at SBS for the first time in my life. By the following spring I was banging nails, planting seeds, mucking out my new barn, and milking goats twice a day. I mused about getting one of those painted metal mailboxes that would sit at the end of the dirt lane with a gaggle of others. It was the cherry on top, the symbol of my new rural life. In the years that followed I would get everything except the mailbox.

I fell in love with the U.S. Postal service as a kid. In summer, I watched from my bedroom window for the man with the leather satchel who would walk up to our front door and slip a few letters into the small box that was next to the front door, then I’d race downstairs to collect them.

Once a year a letter would be addressed to me, a birthday card from my grandparents with a dollar bill tucked inside. Then, during a visit to the 1964 World’s Fair, I was able to sign up for a pen pal thanks to my father, who lied about my age. I eventually received exactly one letter from a boy in China before the correspondence fizzled, but I remember keeping the stamp. Maybe he kept mine.

My passion for receiving mail peaked the day an official looking envelope arrived addressed to The Skydell Family. I opened it and couldn’t believe what was inside. For a fee, the sender claimed that they would search the historical records and send by return mail a copy of The Skydell Family Crest. Enclosed were examples they had located; colorful shields emblazoned with lions, crossed swords, a crown, fleur de lis and stars. I had already successfully completed the phase of male child development when dinosaurs dominate the imagination and was well into the era when knights in medieval armor, joisting and heraldry take over. I had no idea that we had a family crest. No one ever told me.

When my father came home from work that night, I showed him the letter and my excitement was met with a slow shake of the head, a frown and rolled eyes. I didn’t know it, but I had just discovered junk mail.

Fast forward forty-some years and I arrived at another crossroads when I began spending half of each year in Nicaragua. Upon returning to the Island each April, the mother lode of mail was waiting for me — six months’ worth in piles nearly a foot tall covered the entire surface of my kitchen table. I hated the sight of it.

With some coaxing, cursing and scraped knuckles the well pump would be turned back on. I’d listen for the hissing sound from one or more burst pipes, get out my torch, flux and solder and shimmy on my belly under the house to deal with it. I’d get my car running, turn on the refrigerator and make a run to Cronig’s. Dealing with the mail always came last.

I began by dividing the horde into piles by category. All the dozens of stylish home décor catalogues urging me to buy things I had no interest in owning filled two entire cartons. The newspapers, which I had already read online, would be separated out and saved for kindling. I kept a bunch to read later because I missed the feeling of newsprint. The last category was more diverse but just as easy to identify. Anything addressed to me “or current resident” was discarded along with envelopes claiming an Introductory Offer, Zero Per Cent Interest, Claim Your Prize, You Have Won, Limited Time Only, Class Action Settlement, Free Gift, Coupon Enclosed, Time Sensitive.... I had already filled three cartons and had several more to go.

Love notes from the IRS were culled and put aside along with the credit card statements. A collection of demand notices for overdue excise taxes on my car were saved. By the time I returned home each year it was already months overdue and increasing with each new notice. Personal letters written by an actual human being were nonexistent, even the picture postcards and birthday cards with dollar bills were a thing of the past. The world had changed.

Not too long after I moved to Chilmark, they installed one of those shiny aluminum eyesores that hold 20 or so locked cubbies for the mail. Each time I turned the corner from the dappled shade of North Road onto Tea Lane I did my best to ignore it.

I miss the time in my life when waiting for the mailman was something I woke up to on summer mornings. Sometimes, I even wonder what my family crest might have looked like. But as the increasingly curmudgeonly adult I guess I have become, I’m certain it would have been identical to the one you and everybody else would have received in the return mail. Cue the rolled eyes.

Finally, after 16 years living in Nicaragua, I recently received my first piece of mail. Instead of a man in uniform toting a leather satchel, it was handed to me by a kid on a bicycle. It was from the IRS.

Gazette contributor Robert Skydell currently lives in Antigua, Guatemala.