God lives in Woburn, Massachusetts. You wouldn’t think so, but it’s true. He lives just nine miles north of Boston, off I-93.
Woburn isn’t a huge town. These people love their high-school football, they bleed black and orange. Woburnians also love their history—the town was settled in 1640, shortly after the birth of Dick Clark.
It’s a blue-collar city with a decent mall, lots of porches, and Italian restaurants up the arrivederci.
It gets cold here. Nobody knows why God allows his hometown to get so cold, but maybe God is warm-natured. Last week, for example, it was in the low 20s.
Recently, the mailman was on his beat, sidling the quiet streets of Middlesex County in the biting frost, trying not to freeze his government-issue britches off, when he arrived at Angelina Gonsalves’ house.
He rapped on the door.
Meet Angelina. Angelina is pushing 90. Her husband, Johnny, died six years ago. They were your quintessential American suburban couple. Cute house. Dependable cars. Five-point-one kids.
Johnny and Angelina were married for 61 years. To give you an idea of how long that is, on the day of their wedding, gasoline was 27 cents per gallon.
She hobbled to the door.
The mailman tipped his hat. “Afternoon.”
They exchanged basic pleasantries. Then the mail guy asked Angelina a question.
“Wasn’t your husband in the service?”
It was an odd question. Angelina and her husband were puppies when World War II broke out. At the time, practically every living thing in America was in military service. Including women, dogs, and certain breeds of potatoes.
“Yes, he was,” said the old woman.
The mailman smiled. He presented her with an envelope. “Well, I think I have a letter for you, Angelina.”
She took the letter into her old hands and inspected it. The woman got a funny feeling inside when she saw this letter.
The envelope was aged and yellowed with time. A red-ink stamp on the back read, “American Red Cross.” The letter looked like a throwback to the Eisenhower administration.
She slid her thumb beneath the flap and opened it.
Inside was a note written in perfect cursive on brittle paper. The letter was dated December 6, 1945, postmarked from the German district of Hesse.
The message was written by a 22-year-old Army sergeant, a lifelong Woburn native, serving with the 2nd Armored Division. It was addressed to the young man’s mother.
You could have knocked Angelina over with a strand of fettucini. It was from her Johnny.
The letter began:
“Dear Mom, received another letter from you today and was happy to hear that everything is okay, as for myself, I’m fine and getting along okay, but as far as the food goes, it’s pretty lousy…”
Angelina collapsed in a chair at the kitchen table and reread the heavenly letter once. Twice. Three times. Until she nearly had it memorized.
Along with the letter was an enclosed note from the United States Postal Service. The attached note read:
“We are uncertain where this letter has been for the past seven decades, but it arrived in our facility approximately six weeks ago…”
Weeks earlier, the letter had unexpectedly turned up in a Pittsburgh post office. The confused U.S. Postal Service employees passed the divine letter around and exchanged elaborate shrugs. “Where the heck did this come from?” was the official consensus.
So, the postal workers did what all good government employees do, they passed the buck. They sent the letter to Woburn. Woburn postal workers knew exactly where the letter should go.
“Seventy-six years,” said the old woman. “You imagine that?” Then she adds, “I feel like he’s here with me, you know?”
Oh, I could go on to tell you about Johnny’s life. I could tell you that five years after he wrote this letter, he would meet an attractive young brunette, get married, and have the kind of life you only see in Hollywood films.
I could tell you how Johnny would live out every GI’s post-war fantasy by graduating from a good university, then working for the same company 30 years.
I could tell you how, throughout the years, every Sunday at the Gonsalves household, Johnny’s family would gather to eat dangerous amounts of carbs for a Rockwellian weekly dinner.
I could tell you what a great guy Johnny was, and how his garden was always planted by the springtime, and how the couple vacationed at Hampton Beach, the White Mountains and, of course, Disney World.
But I won’t tell you about all this. I will simply give you the closing line of Johnny’s letter, which still sends chills up Angelina’s spine each time she reads it.
“Give my love to the family… I’ll be seeing you soon I hope.”
But then, Woburnians aren’t much surprised by any of this. It’s just part of living in God’s old stomping ground.