The impish card sender from down Texas way
His name was Bruce Smith, and by telling you that, I am breaking my personal rule of writing only first names.
Bruce and I never met. He lived in Garland, Texas, and yet he became important in my life for 13 years. He died last fall, and with it, a very special voice and heart passed from my world.
I found Bruce by accident. I was nosing around on the internet looking for an old friend by the same name. I had no idea that Bruce Smith was one of the most common names anywhere. Looking by age produced a few possibilities so I decided it was worth a quick inquiry.
The Bruce I dropped a note to said no, he wasn’t the right one. “Are you looking for an old friend?”
After I replied yes, he wished me luck. He did have my email address, and I told him I lived and worked in western Pennsylvania. Didn’t think much more about it – or him – and I quit looking for the other Bruce. Looking for a needle in a haystack requires more patience than I have.
The first card came in late October. No return address. It was a happy, fun Halloween card, signed with an exuberant scrawl written in orange felt pen, “Bruce.”
Bruce? Bruce who? Then I flipped over the envelope. The postmark was Garland, TX.
My reaction was somewhere in between “Hmm – sorta nice,” then “Uh-oh.” I didn’t really worry. It’s just a harmless Halloween card, right? But I wondered.
How did he know my last name? My home address? The only things he knew about me was general location and that I ran a historic theater. I realized it was enough information to go on – I have found people with less.
Then the next card came, in late November. Standing at my roadside mailbox, I gulped when I saw the Garland, TX postmark. I opened the Thanksgiving card to find the same signature, written in brown ink, “Bruce.” Just a perfectly nice turkey on the front with a simple greeting. OK.
I didn’t tell anybody. I knew they would think I was nuts, plus they would worry.
Then the Christmas card came, signed the same way, in green. And the valentine was signed in red. I was a bit anxious about the valentine, but its simple message was just like all the others: “Fun Halloween,” “Happy Thanksgiving,” “Merry Christmas,” “Sweet Valentine’s Day.”
Nothing more, just a signature.
I emailed him after each card, “Thank you.”
March brought the St. Patrick’s Day card, followed by April’s Easter greeting. When he didn’t send cards for Arbor Day, May Day or July Fourth, I was a bit disappointed. Summer was a long dry spell, and I almost forgot about the cards. Then, in October, a week before Halloween, a Texas card was in the mailbox and I thought, “Gee, his cards always arrive the day before the event. Wonder why this is so early?”
It was a birthday card. The day before my date. The Halloween card followed a few days later, on time.
I realized that a birthdate can also be found online, but I figured, a year has gone by and no more communication than these fun cards. I was tempted to send a card in return, but thought sensibly that I have trouble keeping up with family and friends’ special days without adding a stranger in Texas.
Years rolled by and the cards continued. Bruce emailed me and asked me to send my columns to him. I added him to my distribution list, and that proved to be our only direct contact.
When I married Dear Richard, Bruce sent a congratulatory card wishing for our happiness.
His pictures popped up on Facebook with his elderly parents on vacation, or with his coworkers at party lunches. He was bearded, always smiling, with fun, twinkling eyes. I had no idea whether he was divorced or widowed.
After a few years, I sent him annual Christmas cards with a one-liner thanking him for all my feel-good moments at the mailbox. Sometimes those feelings arrived just when I needed a boost or a smile. And I came to think of his charming on-time arrivals as part of my belief that we humans need to reach out to each other. Maybe Bruce’s cards really weren’t much different than my chatting up fellow travelers, clerks, and cab drivers.
I looked forward to each holiday, wondering when he would miss – and he never did.
Then late last summer, Bruce posted to friends that he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I sent a few get well or “thinking of you” cards. No birthday card arrived, and for what would have begun the 14th year, no Halloween card.
I found his weeks-old obituary in December. I learned he had lost his wife, that he had one son, a grandson and a few great-grandchildren. He was an antique buff and loved camping with his wife. Individual memorials mentioned how much they loved his cards.
I have no idea how many peoples’ lives he graced with his simple, thoughtful legacy.
Bruce just reached out, touched someone, and said, “Hi! Be happy!” And I was. For 13 touching years.
I guess I found the right Bruce Smith after all.
Marcy O’Brien can be reached at Moby.email@example.com.