I am a believer that things happen for a purpose. Sometimes that purpose is a reminder that whatever our age, there is magic in the air during the Christmas season.
Like many people during the month of December, I approach my mailbox with a combination of excitement and dread.
The excitement is from the chance that there may be a Christmas package or a greeting card updating me on the lives of family and friends. The dread part has to do with anticipating the bills that come with those Christmas packages and the annual property tax statement showing how much I have to pay to maintain basic government services.
Last Saturday was no different. In between running to pictures and other obligations, I stopped at home and got the mail. In it was the expected assortment of items and I casually flipped through them as I trudged up my snowy driveway.
When I look through the mail, I have a habit of looking at the return addresses first. This lets me know if I should dump it in the recycling bin before I get into the house.
I paused in looking through last weekend’s mail when I came to the name of Luella M. Lang who lives on Jericho Road in Bismark, N.D. on the envelope of what I assume to be a Christmas card.
While I have a number of newspaper industry friends in Minnesota, South Dakota and even Canada, I couldn’t recall knowing anyone in North Dakota, let alone anyone who would be sending me a Christmas card. Perhaps it was simply a mis-delivered letter intended for one of my neighbors.
The U.S. Postal Service delivers about 187.8 million pieces of first class mail each day — which for the mathematically inclined breaks down to 20.2 million pieces of mail each hour which further breaks down to 336,649 each minute and 5,611 each second. Things get even more hectic over the holiday season with the greeting card industry reporting that more than 2 billion Christmas cards are sent each year in the U.S. Given those kinds of numbers it is not a shock when the occasional piece gets mis-delivered and I looked at the address to see where it belonged.
This is when things got a bit weird.
Rather than one of my Medford neighbors, the misdelivered card was addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Terry Feickert who live at 315 Dakota Ave, in Goodrich, N.D. The address included an incomplete zip code. This was very strange.
I commented to my wife about the card and she went online to try and find out where it should have gone. The search yielded a landline phone number for Terry and Karen Feickert. My curiosity piqued, I called the number and left a message on their answering machine explaining that I had gotten their mail and would be forwarding it on to them. I also included my phone number in case they wanted to give me a call.
Later that evening, I received a phone call from an unfamiliar number, it was Karen calling me back from her daughter’s house in Fargo where they had been attending their grandchildren’s basketball tournament.
Karen and her husband run a third-generation well drilling company and in addition to being the retired postmaster for Goodrich, N.D. she is also the city’s mayor. In another twist, Luella Lang, who is in her mid-90s, had also at one time been postmaster in Goodrich, N.D.
If you are planning a road trip to Goodrich, N.D. it is located close to the center of the state on Hwy 200 about 200 miles west of Fargo and is about a nine hour drive from Medford depending on traffic.
“It is a very small town,” Karen said. According to the last census the city had a population of 98 people. She explained that the city didn’t have much left in the way of commerce anymore, with no local grocery store or bank. She said they have an elementary school, a self-serve gas station and a post office that is open four hours a day.
She explained that the town lost its high school this year. She said the only way the high school had stayed open as long as it had was that a lot of the juniors and seniors had been doing courses online and through interactive TV. Still, she says it was a great place to raise her family and that her children all received high quality education there.
Goodrich, like its namesake here in Taylor County, is primarily a farming community. Karen and her husband have been married for 44 years and have watched their community change over that time while raising three daughters who are all grown. All of her children have left Goodrich and moved to other towns. “There would be no jobs to come back for,” she said, echoing the plight of many small towns across the country.
As far as how the letter which was postmarked on December 10 in Bismark, N.D. made its way to Wisconsin is a mystery. Karen was surprised that with the optical scanning equipment used to sort mail at postal centers, that it didn’t get bounced back to the sender for having an incomplete address.
Karen recalled visiting a distribution center in Fargo as a postmaster shortly after the equipment was installed. “I am surprised we get any mail, it is pretty amazing,” Karen said of the speed of the mail going through the equipment.
“It was always a puzzle to me how it happened,” Karen said of the mail ending up in odd locations. She noted that simply transposing two number of the zip code could see mail go to the opposite coast from where it was intended to go.
Karen went on to ask me about Wisconsin and what people do in this area and about my family and the community. I told her about my son in middle school and my daughter in college studying to become a teacher.
We talked about Wisconsin and places she was familiar with like Milwaukee and she noted that one of her daughters has been to Wisconsin Dells.
I wished her grandchildren luck in their basketball tournament and let her know I would be forwarding the card to her. She considered teasing Mrs. Lang about dropping the 8 from the zip code, but noted at 95 years old, she is entitled to a mistake or two.
We ended our conversation wishing each other Merry Christmas and again being amazed at the wandering path of a Christmas card that connected two strangers over hundreds of miles.
Like I said before, I don’t really believe in coincidences. Things happen to us for reasons and remind us that no matter how much space separates us, we all share the same hopes, dreams and challenges regardless of where we call home.
Brian Wilson is News Editor at The Star News.