The letter was dated June 14, 1967.
An unknown postal worker had hand stamped the envelope and its .05 stamp: “PM JUN 15 1967 Garden Grove, Calif.”
What happened next remains a mystery, but the letter was finally delivered, with no fanfare, last week — a mere 47 years late.
Addressed to Mr. JB Ray, in a neat, artsy handwriting, with A’s that look more like triangles, the letter was delivered to the exact street address written on the envelope to a home in the River’s Bend neighborhood, here in Lafayette.
No one who lived in the home or any of the surrounding neighbors knew or remembered a Mr. JB Ray. Tommy Sheppard, a friend of the owner of the home, happened to be visiting when the postman nonchalantly delivered the letter.
The letter ignited something in Sheppard. With the homeowner’s blessings, he and his wife set about on a mission to find the letter’s rightful owner. First, he posted a picture of the envelope on Facebook, asking for help in finding Mr. JB Ray or anyone connected to him.
I saw the image and was mesmerized with the possibilities. I contacted Sheppard and went to see the letter.
“I didn’t want to read it,” Tommy said. “But my wife read it and said it was one of the most beautiful letters she had ever read.”
By the time I arrived, Tommy had decided to read the letter too.
“Jan, you’ve got to read this letter, and we’ve got to find these people,” he said.
That’s how I came to be the fourth person to read the letter since it was written more than 47 years ago. When they handed it to me, the first thing I noticed was the quality of the paper and the overall pristine condition of the envelope and letter.
“Where could this thing have been for all those years?” I asked myself. There wasn’t a tear or bent corner to be found.
Being alone you have plenty of time to think. You think about the turn of events that caused the past and question the present — and then you wonder about the future. … You’ve been the pillar of strength of our family. From the beginning with Rita’s illness, to the accident and other hardships, not to mention some I may not know about. Gray hair and wrinkles in the process but no weakness — just strength.
And maybe you’ve questioned your judgment and aren’t sure if you always did the correct thing. You’ve raised a family that’s devoted to each other and held together by love. This is the true criteria.
You’ve got what other men long for but never obtain. I’m not sure how I’ll turn out, Dad, but I can only hope that I’m half the man you are and that my children will love me as much as I do you.
It’s hard to write a feeling, but I’ve tried. I’ve thought about this letter a long time and, of course, Father’s Day would be the appropriate time to send it.
My only regret is that I’m not there with you to shake your hand and say, Happy Father’s Day, Dad.
Your loving son
I agreed with Tommy — we had to find someone alive who was connected to this letter. In a perfect world, both parties would still be alive and well, but since the letter referenced gray hair in 1967, I knew that the father was likely not still around.
Maybe the son was — which made me wonder if he thought his father had received the letter and had not responded. Maybe I could find him to let him know the truth.
So, I set off on a wild goose chase to find him. The problem was he only used his dad’s initials in the address and didn’t sign the letter with his name.
Three days later, I had what I believed to be the letter writer’s phone number in hand, I called the number and a man answered.
I said, “Mr. Ray?”
The voice said, “He’s gone to the store…”
Come back next week to find out about Jan’s conversation with the man who wrote the letter to his dad back in 1967 — and the twists, turns and help along the way to find him.