My husband and I were rushing to leave for my sister’s house across town for a festive holiday get-together. “Let’s drop off the mail on the way,” I hollered from the bathroom where I was combing my hair and putting on lipstick. Because of local mail-theft, we use the mailbox in our neighborhood mini-mall for outgoing correspondence.
Hubby called back, “Sure—and as long as we’re stopping, I’ll make an ATM deposit, too. We can be ten minutes late, right?”
I wasn’t sure. After all, my sister is my sister, and we were raised to believe an invitation for 12:30 does not mean 12:40. Besides, I was looking forward to seeing her. When I suggested perhaps we could do the banking after lunch, Hubby flashed an I-can’t-believe-you-just-said-that smile. “OK,” I laughed, “it’ll only take an extra two minutes.”
With the backseat loaded (relish tray, my purse, and a book I’d promised to loan Sis), we were ready—running a couple minutes late, but within bounds. As I plunked into the passenger seat, Hubby handed me an ATM envelope with the check’s dollar amount penciled across it for quick data entry at the ATM.
“Don’t mix up the letters with the bank envelope,” he quipped.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” I said.
He pulled up to the mailbox. I opened the car door and jumped out, feeling youthful, lithe—a sunny day, a social event—and pushed the mail into the slot. “Oops.”
A split-second earlier I’d been thinking what a great day this was—and what fun it would be tomorrow when we set off for a mini-vacation at the ocean. Suddenly I felt as though an entire allotment of summer rain had just flooded the inside of our car. I could practically hear the thunder. I wanted to wisecrack that at least we wouldn’t be late to my sister’s house (no extra bank errand), but this was no time for humor, judging from the look on my husband’s face. As I reeled from my inexplicable act, I mentally flipped through remedies and remembered something learned years ago at work—the post office answers its 800 phone number even on holidays. Via my cell phone I was soon connected to a very nice postal representative who assured me my zip-code’s regional office would help me the next (business day) morning.
As we drove to Sis’s house, we discussed postponing our trip to the ocean. Another oops—we had prepaid these specific dates. Although we were sure that the check eventually would find its way back to us, we wondered how difficult would it be to get a replacement from the issuer. Each idea was punctuated by an act of contrition by me, followed by an “It’s OK” from Hubby. A proverb from Carl Sandburg’s poem, “The People, Yes,” kept going through my head. Why did the children put beans in their ears, when the one thing we told them NOT to do was put beans in their ears? Was it the mere power of suggestion? Was I losing my mind? Was this a sign of the onset of acute senility?
When I telephoned my regional post office the next morning, the clerk sympathetically offered to contact the collection-box supervisor of Special Units. A few minutes later I was informed that Bill, the collection driver, would telephone when he arrived at the mailbox, sometime between 3:30 and 4:30. All I had to do was stay by my phone and drive the short distance to meet him.
The day passed slowly. I packed my bag for the ocean, cleaned out the refrigerator, sorted through piles of papers accumulating on my desk, and tidied my jewelry drawer. My husband made outgoing calls from his cell phone to keep the line open for Bill’s call. We would leave for the ocean as soon as we retrieved the castaway check. We’d miss the romance of the late afternoon sunset over the Pacific but that seemed inconsequential now.
At 3:35 the phone rang, and at 3:45 I pulled into the shopping center’s parking lot. A postal truck was parked adjacent to the mailbox. “Bill?” I caught his eye and approached the truck. He nodded.
“Come on in, Sara. I’m just beginning to sort the pickup now.”
I climbed into the truck. It felt like someone’s mobile home, it was so spacious. Bins lined the walls for presorting certain kinds of mail. Bill carefully searched small handfuls of mail from a large, nearly full hamper, looking for the absence of a stamp and/or the bank’s logo. I watched as he flicked envelopes. In response to my apology for causing this extra work, he told me he finds all kinds of things in the mailbox. “At my pickup near a library, I get a lot of books in the mailbox. At the mailboxes by banks, I get loose checks—you’d be surprised! At least yours is in an envelope!”
I was beginning to feel better. I told him how my husband had just finished telling me not to mix up the envelopes, and how we had been on the way to a family gathering when it happened.
“I’ll bet it was real quiet in the car on your way to that get-together.”
I laughed out loud for the first time since the incident. Now we chatted convivially, like old friends. I told him my husband and I were leaving for the ocean as soon as this check business was resolved. He asked me what beach, specifically. When I told him, he exclaimed, “Really? My wife and I are going there, too—next week!”
Three-quarters down the hamper, the ATM envelope appeared. Bill opened the envelope; I showed him my picture ID; the check was mine. I thanked him profusely. “Hey, maybe we’ll see each other at the ocean,” he said.
Saying goodbye to my new best friend, I practically skipped to the car. I felt like a kid—happy, carefree. For a split second I was tempted to run over to the bank and deposit the check. Nah, I’d leave that to my husband.
And I did.
Copyright © 2008 Sara J. Glerum