The old runny postcard that changed a woman’s life forever
Delivering the Mail by Allen Abel
How many lives have been altered by a card, a letter, or a lovingly packed carton containing a family’s treasure? How many millions of our forebears, through all our nation’s centuries, waited breathlessly for the postman to convey the tidings of a soldier’s survival, an immigrant’s arrival, a lover’s pledge, a sudden bequest, a new employment, or a death’s arrival via a black-bordered mourning letter?
This is the story of a postcard that changed the trajectory of one woman’s life forever.
The Pioneer Home in Sitka, Alaska, looks out on a sparkling sea. In front of the home is a bustling harbor of fishing craft and cruise liners, a gem of the Last Frontier.
Behind the handsome, Depression-era building and behind each of the 65 women and men who are passing their quiet days there is a long, rich history of growth, isolation and memory.
Like all pioneers of her generation, 89-year-old Fredi Young’s saga reflects the trenchant twists of fate that mark a human lifespan.
Born on a remote cattle ranch in west Texas and busying herself now in the Pioneer Home’s gift shop and ceramics room, she can remember an instant when her life changed forever because of a single piece of mail.
“It was just an old postcard that had been rained on,” Young said. That card, through the fragile, fickle miracle of the United States mail, launched Young on a remarkable journey.
“The postcard was kind of runny and hard to read,” Young recalled. “It invited me to come to church. I had never been to church.”
The ranch, 36 miles east of Midland, was home to the teenage Fredi, her older sisters and a horse named Red Hawk who was so tall that Fredi had to clamber up a fence to reach his saddle. (She had been named Fred Gloria Christie at birth for an uncle; she was the Boy Named Sue in reverse. Adapting Fredi as a sobriquet alleviated the confusion.)
“My life was going in another direction,” she said three-quarters of a century later, “but I got that card and I went to church and I got my heart changed.”
The postcard that the Texas ranch girl received led her to missionary service in distant Peru.
“My Dad was broken-hearted that I left,” she remembered, but her letters helped to ease the loss of his little girl.
In South America, married to another American of her faith, Fredi helped to deliver a communicant’s baby.
“The mother died,” she said softly, “and they gave the baby to me and we adopted her.”
That baby is 48 years old now (she has made Fredi Young a grandma) and living in Fairbanks, Alaska. Such is the reverberation of a single rain-blurred piece of mail.
“We accomplish something, we get stuff done, we have a purpose,” explained Sitka Postmaster Celia Dumag, who now serves the Pioneer Home.
Sitka, once the capital of Russia’s fur-hungry foothold on the southeast Alaskan coast, now welcomes hundreds of thousands of tourists and explorers every summer.
The 8,400 permanent residents rely on the U.S. Postal Service to furnish them with everything from pheasant chicks to children’s underwear. There are no big-box stores here, not even a city-sized supermarket.
“Ninety-nine point nine percent of everything we hear is, ‘Where’s my stuff?’ ” Dumag said.
She finds herself continuously reminding her customers that it takes from five to seven weeks for a barge to be floated up the Inside Passage from Alaska Way on the Seattle docks.
“When we figure out how to teleport things like the Starship Enterprise does,” she said, “People will still need their stuff.”
There was a time in America when the most precious stuff of all were words handwritten, the Book of Proverbs’ good news from a far country.
“Almost all of the men who have come to the Alaska Pioneer Home are of the highest type of American trailblazer,” reads a framed citation from a territorial official, dated 1914, that long predates the current building where it now is displayed. “They are men who have lived alone in silent places …”
At the Alaska Pioneer Home, the lingering silence is broken by a woman’s remembrance.
What if that postcard had never arrived?
“Oh my,” she answered. “I guess I’d still be back on the ranch.”
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