We celebrated another wedding anniversary today, an insanely large number of years together, and I sent a prayer heavenward as I always do on our anniversary, for Ed the Mailman. We couldn’t have done it without him.
John and I started dating senior year of high school, an odd match for sure. He was in the popular group; I was one of the nerds. Our first date was to a “switch dance” where the girls ask the boys for dates, and John was my third choice. I was determined to go to the dance, and when the first two guys had other plans, I called him. His Mom answered each time I called, and repeatedly assured me I had just missed him; he was at work. And for some reason, I believed her, even though I probably should have considered that he was avoiding me. I thank my mother-in-law every year, too, for her confident, reassuring voice.
One date led to another, and we both graduated and started on the college road. But John knew after one semester that college just wasn’t for him, and rather than wait for the inevitable letter saying that he’d been drafted (it was the Vietnam War era), he enlisted in the Navy.
And our letter writing began.
Of course, this was before computers and cell phones, video calls and Skyping. Long distance phone calls were a rarity, and expensive.
By the time John was through all his training and had been on several different bases here in the U.S., we were a serious couple. And then came the 18-month assignment to Panama. My heart sank, the tears flowed, and I doubted for the first time that we could make it through this kind of trial. “Of course, we will,” he promised. “I’ll write you every day, and you have school to focus on. You’re the smart one, remember? Please don’t give up on us.”
I waited every day for the mailman that summer, and it didn’t take long for him to realize what an integral part of my day his arrival had become. He asked me one day about the Panamanian return address on the envelopes, what John was like, how we had met, and became more than our mailman that day. He became my friend, and a lifeline that stretched the entire number of lonely miles from Missouri to Panama.
And Ed the mailman devised a plan when I told him that it drove me crazy when a week would go by with no letters at all and then a batch of them would appear all at once, or they came out of sequence and I was reading the result of something that I’d not even realized was happening.
“Tell you what, Miss Vicki. You have your John put a date on the outside of the envelope,” he said, “just to let me know when he wrote it, and I’ll separate the letters out and deliver them one at a time and in the order he wrote them.” And he did. Faithfully.
John was able to meet him in person and shake the hand of the man who had helped keep our love alive when he came home for a two-week leave halfway through the assignment. He took Ed aside and swore him to secrecy, promising that if his next assignment was stateside, Ed would catch a break in his sorting and delivering duties, because we would be married and I’d be going with him.
Boxes of letters later, there was a Christmas leave and an engagement ring. I couldn’t wait to thank Ed the Mailman for the part he’d played in making that day happen.
“You save all the letters, right?” he asked “Go back to right around the beginning of September and check the outsides of the envelopes. You’ll see a green mark beneath the date that John wrote on one of the envelopes. That was his way of letting me know that he was being stationed stateside and the wait was almost over.”
“You knew before I did?” I laughed, hugged him, and ran into the house for the box of letters. There it was, on the September 4th envelope, a totally innocent looking green mark, as though a pen had mistakenly brushed against the envelope. I sat there crying, shaking my head in delight and disbelief.
Seven months later, John and I were married, in a blisteringly hot, unairconditioned church. And sitting at the end of a pew about halfway down the aisle, where we could hug him on the way past as Mr. and Mrs., was Ed the Mailman.
We have never forgotten him. And the prayers of thanks for him continue . . .