SKOWHEGAN — It was the two-cent stamp that first gave it away.
A letter, postmarked Houlton, Maine, in the summer of 1931, finally made it this past week to Pittsfield from where it originally had been sent — 83 years ago.
The nine-page letter, written in ink in luxuriant cursive, was penned by then-23-year-old Miriam McMichael, a school teacher, to her mother, Dollena McMichael, who lived on Peltoma Avenue in Pittsfield.
Miriam’s niece and Dollena’s granddaughter, Ann MacMichael, 69, said part of the irony of the mystery letter is her aunt’s apology for taking so long to write to her mother, with whom she was very close.
“One of the best parts for me of what she wrote was that she apologized for not writing sooner, as she knew her mother had been anxiously waiting all week for a letter — which, as we know, was never received,” Ann MacMichael said. “She said ‘I’m just getting around to write. I imagine you have been anxiously waiting for a letter all week. I have no excuses, but that I just didn’t get to it and there are lots of things to tell you, too.'”
She said postal officials in Pittsfield found the letter in the morning mail and contacted Skowhegan Postmaster Bill Sylvain, knowing that McMichaels — and MacMichaels — had moved to Skowhegan some 40 years ago.
Sylvain delivered the letter by hand to Red MacMichael, a retired lawyer and District Court judge, who handed it over to his sister, Ann, who lives in Cornville.
She noted that the spelling of the family surname had changed over the years.
“Red called me and said the postmaster came to Red’s last week and he had this letter and he said ‘Do you know who this is?'” Ann said Tuesday. “Red said ‘Sure, it’s my grandmother,’ so he left it with Red.”
Both women — Miriam and Dollena — have since died.
Michelle Rowell, a clerk at the Pittsfield post office, said she found the letter in remarkably good shape while hand-sorting incoming mail.
“As I was sorting I came across it — it appeared to be old, but it was in really good condition,” Rowell said by phone Tuesday. “It had a two-cent stamp on it. I knew it was old and the handwriting was old.”
The price of a U.S. Postal Service stamp went up to three cents in July 1932.
Rowell said since the switchover to addressing via the E-911 system, she knew the address no longer existed, so she put the letter on the postmaster’s desk to possibly find surviving members of the family. They called the Pittsfield Town Office and the Pittsfield fire chief, who was there, recognized the family name and it was delivered to Skowhegan.
Rowell said she can only guess how a letter mailed 83 years ago could suddenly turn up in her morning mail. She said it probably slipped “neatly” into some old sorting equipment somewhere along the line, but she does not know where.
Neither does Ann MacMichael, who said it is a mystery how the letter finally made its way into circulation.
“These were young girls at the Pittsfield post office that didn’t remember us and didn’t know any McMichaels and there are no McMichaels in Pittsfield anymore, we’re all gone,” she said. “They said ‘It caught our attention because of the two-cent stamp’ and she said ‘Wouldn’t you have thought that somebody who found it would have put it in an envelope with a note that said this was in a piece of equipment or somewhere.’ But there was no explanation.”
Ann MacMichael said her aunt’s irreverent and humorous approach to the news of the day in 1931 was exactly how she remembered her growing up.
“We always have thought of our aunt as a strong woman with a mind of her own and with a way of saying what was on her mind, but often using a mix of humor to make it more palatable,” MacMichael said. “We all should have that talent.”
Ann MacMichael said the family now hopes that someone will read about the mystery letter and contact her, perhaps telling her how the letter turned up after so many years.
“We’re hoping someone will see this and say ‘I found it’ because we’ll never know otherwise,” she said.
Doug Harlow — 612-2367