MACON, Ga. -- Sarah Bragg received a postcard from her husband, Bill, on Wednesday afternoon.
It came all the way to Macon from Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. The picture on the postcard was a view of some stalagmites and stalactites inside one of the largest caves in the world.
“Dear Sarah, Beverly and All,” Bill wrote. “I am enjoying the trip and safe so far. I slept all night at Snyder, Texas, at the Strayhorn Motel and feel rested. I sure wish you were with me. Today I went to Carlsbad Caverns. Love, Bill. P.S. I am sending you and Beverly a package from a souvenir store near here.”
He mailed it on a Monday. It got there on a Wednesday.
Bill was already home by the time it reached the mailbox.
After all, it had been 52 years and 61 days.
That’s right. The 5-cent postcard -- with a few bumps, bruises, blue-ink smears and a 3-cent stamp barely hanging on -- somehow reached its final destination.
The postmark was Nov. 10, 1958. It had been mailed from Whites City, N.M.
Oh, well. Better late than never.
A lot of things have changed, though.
Wilmer “Bill” Bragg Jr. was a 30-year-old Marine when he penned those words. He’s now an 82-year-old great-grandfather and needs a magnifying glass to read them.
The Braggs still live on the same property along Liberty Church Road. It has been in Sarah’s family since 1943.
But the postal address has changed three times. In 1958, Bill sent it to Route 3, which later became Route 7.
When ZIP codes were created in 1960, it was designated as 31206 and later switched to 31216. (The Braggs also are now considered part of Rural Route 18.)
This amazing mail run has plenty of questions begging for answers, like a bottle tossed at sea that washes ashore a half-century later.
Obviously, where has this postcard been all these years? Has it been in a cave, too? Did it slip behind a desk or fall between some cracks?
Or was it ... drum roll, please ... card-jacked?
Gosh, the stories it could tell if it only had a mouth instead of a postmark.
“This incident is extremely rare and, over the course of postal history, it is always a great moment when we are able to deliver the mail no matter what condition it is in,” said Nancy Ross, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Postal Service in the South Georgia District.
Ross contacted postal officials in Whites City on Thursday and was told they did not recall seeing the postcard there.
“With the large volume of mail we process, it is possible for a piece of mail to be trapped inside empty equipment or, in this case, sacks from that period of time,” Ross said.
“We regularly go through old equipment that we want to be sure is empty.
However, this postcard was not marked ‘found in supposedly empty equipment.’ It still could have been found there, and there is no way to verify that.”
Ross said the U.S. Postal Service, which delivered more than 170 billion pieces of mail last year, “sincerely apologizes” to the Braggs for the tardy delivery.
But it is proud to have belatedly lived up to its daily motto of “We deliver.”
It was also happy to honor the 3-cent stamp -- without the 25 cents postage due.
She said another amazing part of the story is what happened when the postcard arrived at the south Macon station on Rocky Creek Road.
The card was processed with a “delivery bar code sorter automation machine.”
“That machine is extremely advanced and contains millions of sortation plans, alternate delivery information, aliases and always tries to match the address information in some way to put in delivery sequence for the city and rural carriers,” Ross said. “Even though in 1958 the Braggs lived on Route 3 in Macon, the machine took that address and matched it with the current route and by the Bragg name on Rural Route 18. The machine put the postcard in with that carrier’s current mail and was ready for delivery -- after almost 53 years.”
Sarah and Bill will celebrate their 57th wedding anniversary in March. He spent four years in the Navy during the Korean War, then came home and attended the University of Georgia. He later worked in the kaolin industry in Wilkinson County.
He enlisted in the Marines in January 1954, just two months before he married.
He was stationed in California and had been home on leave in 1958 to see Sarah and their 2-year-old daughter, Beverly.
He was returning to California in his 1951 Ford when he stopped to visit the National Park at Carlsbad Caverns. It wasn’t that far off his route.
As a boy, he had always been fascinated with the New Mexico caverns he had read about in science and geography books.
Bill doesn’t remember if he mentioned to Sarah about the postcard from Carlsbad, so she never knew to acknowledge she had received it. Besides, it was routine for them to exchange several cards and letters each week when he was away at military bases.
The Braggs received three pieces of mail Wednesday afternoon in the black mailbox at the end of their side driveway.
Two letters were tax information from the Social Security Administration.
The other was a rather weary postcard.
“When I first looked at it, I thought to myself: ‘Who would be sending us a postcard from New Mexico?’ ” Bill said. “Then I thought I recognized my own handwriting.”
For anyone who has ever lost a card or letter in the mail, hope now springs eternal.