October 19, 2006
Sometime last week in Brookline Massachusetts Alan Gagne died alone in his room of a heart attack. He was a mailman, a social misfit, virtually without friends and his death would have gone unnoticed, not even meriting an obituary, had his house not been found full of 20 years of undelivered mail. His kitchen cabinets were stuffed with junk mail, circulars mainly, his drawers were overflowing with letters, and under his bed they pulled boxes and boxes of postcards. Entire closets had been stuffed as had the extra bathtub. Virtually all the pilfered mail was undeliverable for the usual reasons—address changes, deaths, bad handwriting, that sort of thing. None of it was opened. Five mailtrucks were required to haul it all away.
The New York times titled the story "In Postman’s Death, a Mystery of Mail Left Behind", another newspaper said the death was "shrouded in mystery", but the story doesn't seem the least bit mysterious to me. I once asked my mailman in Santa Monica, an odd character himself, if he ever got tired of delivering mail, he answered something like this, "I carry invitations to weddings, birth announcements, death announcements, letters from girlfriends, bankruptcy papers, checks from grandma, you name it. People send postcards from vacations all over the world. They put them in a mailbox in Japan or Africa and they end up in my mail bag. Nobody ever writes to me, but it doesn't matter, I get mail every day." I imagine Gagne kept all the undeliverable mail because he felt it was safer with him, because it connected him to the river of life outside his door which he apparently found impossible to enter. Maybe in odd hours he would imagine the mail was for him, waiting to be opened. No longer would he be a living illustration of Thoreau's quiet desperation, but a man with friends near and far, a man with a place in the world beyond the neighborhood he walked every day in sun and rain and snow. Maybe, just maybe, those letters allowed him to feel something which was sorely lacking in his life, maybe in them his empty house felt full of love.