Scatter 43,000 newspapers around a city and you’re bound to meet new – and old – friends.
A few weeks ago, my old postman from 30305 from when I was a high school senior called. He was there when I was awaiting word from four colleges. Two said no. One, Emory, said yes. The University of Virginia said maybe, and placed me on the waiting list with final word to come in two weeks.
Every day at lunch, I would leave work to wait by the mailbox to see which path my life would take. On the third day, the postman asked if I was waiting for word from Virginia.
“How did you know?” I asked.
“I’ve got to read envelopes, don’t I.” he said. “By the way, I’m sorry you didn’t get into those other two.”
“Do you open them, too?”
“No. Skinny envelopes mean no,” he said. “Fat ones mean yes.”
“Virginia’s was skinny,” I said.
“Not skinny enough. You must be on the waiting list. You go by “Chris, don’t you?”
“Yeah, what about you?”
“Jack. Jack Daniels.”
“You’re kidding me, right?”
“No,” he said. “And my brother-in-law’s name is Johnnie Walker.”
I continued to meet Jack every day ? rain or shine. He would know before anyone else in Atlanta what my future would be. I told him if I got in, I’d split a bottle of Jack Black with him. (The drinking age was 18 then.) The wait stretched into June, then July. Jack would hand me the mail and shake his head. I didn’t even have to look.
Then one late July morning at 7:30, I was in the shower. My mother called down to say Jack was on the phone.
“Congratulations,” he said. “The envelope just came through and it’s real thick.”
I saw Jack a few more times that week. He had one last request. “Write your mother from school. I don’t want her to get after me for your being lazy.”
“How about that bottle of Jack?” I asked.
“Let’s wait until you graduate.”
Later that year, I saw a new postman at my parents’ mailbox. He said after five years, Jack was transferred to another route. He fought the change, but moved on without telling the neighbors.
Four years later, I did graduate and – in my farewell column as editor of the weekly college paper ? wrote the story of Jack and the mailbox. I mailed him a copy, care of the post office. In the years since, I moved around the South with five or six daily papers. He moved around Atlanta with different routes.
Now, nearly 20 years later, Jack was on the phone. “I’m out in Kennesaw now,” he said. “Ever since you left I’ve looked at newspapers I deliver, thinking I’d see your byline somewhere. You’ve got some advertisers out here who get your new paper. When I saw your name, I had to call. In fact, I went and pulled out that old column you wrote about me in college and read it again.”
We talked about the paper, about his new marriage and his new twins. We talked about how life brings people back in touch with each other in unusual ways. We wished each other well. I told him I’d add him to the mailing list so we’d stay in touch better this time.