"A Jefferson woman's thank-you letter touches hearts in Maine"
I remember how easy -- and valid -- it was to kick around the U.S. Postal Service in the days, weeks, months after The Thing, when everybody's mail was going to the wrong place or, worse, going no place at all.
And what, exactly, happened to all the mailboxes in town? That's a riddle I've never figured out. But that's not what this story is about.
It's safe to say the post office has never quite had a challenge like this before, tracking down hundreds of thousands of people who were on the move, on the go, on the mend and on the run. Some New Orleanians were bouncing from couch to couch, house to house, town to town -- like fugitives on the run -- before they ever came back home.
If they even came back home.
Given such a track record, the post office should be lauded for getting Roma T. Lambourne's letter to Jeff Galasyn.
Jeff Galasyn is a high school student from Saco, Maine, whose volunteer service in New Orleans I wrote about last month. He has come to the city three times to help get this place up on its feet.
Roma T. Lambourne is a woman from Jefferson who read the story and wanted to thank Jeff for his efforts. The letter she wrote to him was addressed, simply:
"To The High School in Saco, Maine"
And that's it. It would have been easy for any number of mail handlers along the route from New Orleans to Maine to discard this letter, chuck it into the bins full of letters to Santa Clause and Elvis Presley, or return it to her address, which she did scrawl in the upper left corner of the envelope.
But, fortunately, there's only one high school in Saco, Maine, and the men and women in blue -- neither rain, nor snow nor absence of ZIP code -- made sure the letter got there, and this is what it said:
"Dear friends: I hope this has arrived to the kind school where Jeff Galasyn is a student.
"The people of New Orleans are so thankful for all the help we have received from everyone, especially the students who have given their time and labor to do such a great job.
"I do not live in the section of New Orleans that was so badly damaged. I live on the western side of New Orleans and I feel like I was so lucky. My garage had 14 inches of water but since my house is on piers, the water did not get in the house.
"I lost my washing machine, dryer and freezer which were in the garage, also my heating system which was under the house. And my roof. I am 84 years old and was out of my house for over a month.
"There was no electricity, gas, phones and complete darkness -- as all of the streets were dark. High water for long periods of time. You can see why we are so grateful for all the help the city received from generous people like Jeff.
"I apologize for my handwriting, but I have wrist problems. My two daughters are teachers and they say: Teachers can read any handwriting.
"God bless Jeff."
Signed, Roma T. Lambourne.
Well. Where to begin? I guess here:
God bless Roma T. Lambourne.
Of the many eloquent and famous ambassadors this region has out there fighting our battle for us -- Wynton Marsalis, Harry Connick Jr., even Brad Pitt and John Edwards -- I'm not sure anyone or anything speaks to the pure and honest gratitude of our population better than a letter like this.
Somehow, it arrived at "The High School in Saco, Maine." Fortuitously, there is only one high school in Saco, Maine. It's called the Thornton Academy and it's where Jeff Galasyn -- and a number of other high school volunteers -- go to school.
The letter has made the rounds through that town. It was read at a school assembly. It was noted in the local newspaper. It has been read from church pulpits and at town meetings. It is a badge of honor and pride for this little burg in southern Maine that has sent a couple dozen people to our town to help gut our houses, muck our properties, clear our land and rebuild our city.
I heard about this letter and called her.
"You read the letter?" she exclaimed. "Oh, mercy! The handwriting is terrible."
Yes, well ... it was. But she is 84. She has wrist problems. And she heard about a group of kids from a faraway place -- it might as well be another planet -- and, she explains, "I wanted these young people to realize that what they're doing here is a big help."
The assistant headmaster of the Thornton Academy, Rene Menard, wrote a letter back to Roma T. Lambourne. It said:
"I can assure you that all here are amazed that -- not only did you take the time to write to us about your experiences with Katrina and express your thanks to Jeff and all the others who helped the flood victims -- but that this letter from Louisiana ever reached us in the first place with such a simple address!
"Thank you so much for helping our students realize that -- though we come from different areas of the United States -- we are all connected and more alike than we appreciate sometimes."
Roma T. Lambourne knows this better than most. Her church, St. Paul's Methodist Church in Harahan, is hosting two separate alternative spring break groups who have come to town to do more of the same -- gutting, mucking, digging, building -- that so many tens of thousands of volunteers from around the country have done.
It's a beautiful thing, all this transcontinental cooperation. It's springtime in New Orleans and thousands of young people are in town doing the work that the city, the state, the feds and all their agencies and administrations could not or will not do.
So if you see young folks around town this week or next, with dirt in their pores and mold in their hair and dirt on their jeans, be Roma T. Lambourne. Say thank you. To the volunteers. To the mail carriers. To everyone.
Because we are all connected and more alike than we appreciate sometimes.
Columnist Chris Rose can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; or at (504) 352-2535 or (504) 826-3309.