Take a moment and write a card to 87-year-old Patsy Roberts, the saintly matriarch of Rockaway, who saved the thousands of cards she received over the decades with the hope of reading them in her final hours—only to lose them all in Hurricane Sandy.
“I was saving them to read when my time came,” she said when her son-in-law told her the cards had been destroyed by the storm surge. “I was saving them so I could read the cards and remember the people I love.”
Out of his own deep love for Roberts, her son-in-law is seeking to soften the loss by asking any and everyone of good will to write her a holiday card. The son-in-law, Cristian Dobles, has posted this message on Facebook:
“It doesn’t matter whether you know her or not. Just say something beautiful to her. My goal is to get 1,000 cards to her for Christmas. Please help me with this. You can send them to Patsy Roberts, 130-04 Rockaway Beach Boulevard, Belle Harbor, New York 11694.”
A testament to Roberts was immediately posted in response by her neighbor, Tara Stackpole:
“Mrs. Roberts is the true matriarch of our block. She is the neighbor that prays for you, bakes for you, inquires about each family member, and always has a ready smile. At 87 she will put the neighbors trashcans away on her way home from daily Mass. She is the epitome of what a ‘neighbor’ should be and this block and our family are so blessed to know her.”
Roberts has written thousands of cards herself to family and friends over the years—on birthdays and special occasions, or if she heard of some great success. Sometimes just because she was thinking of them.
“My three children receive cards from Patsy on a monthly basis just to say she loves them,” the son-in-law, Dobles, says. “And the thing is, she doesn’t take writing the cards lightly. She really puts in her love and her good wishes.”
Along with whatever words she might actually write comes the spirit of the profoundly decent soul who wrote them, adding something unspoken to whatever the card says.
“I believe Patsy’s cards are actually prayers,” Dobles says.
Roberts lives her whole life as a kind of prayer that does not stop when she leaves the early mass at St. Francis de Sales Church. She makes devotions of seemingly mundane acts—not just setting her neighbors’ trashcans back in front of their houses, but placing on the front doorstep any newspapers the deliverer had just tossed on the sidewalk. She then takes a two-mile walk along the beach.
“Rain, sleet, snow, shark, alien invasions, whatever,” Dobles says. “Nothing would stop her.”
On the occasions her grandchildren come along, they would laugh about not being able to keep up with her. The grandchildren would return exhausted.
“I believe Patsy’s cards are actually prayers.”
“She comes back fresh as a little kid,” Dobles says.
She truly seems to see only the best in everybody she encounters.
“She has no sense of discrimination,” Dobles says. “She doesn’t care if you’re tall, small, black, white, fat, skinny. She sees beyond all that. The only thing she sees when she meets a person is the goodness of their heart.”
And with her faith come a comes a strength that kept her steady even when the sea she so often walked along rose up along with the hellish winds of Hurricane Sandy.
“It gives her a sense of living life without fear,” Dobles says. “She really does not fear anything.”
After Hurricane Sandy, veterans groups helped clean up the hard-hit Rockaways.
She evacuated a few blocks back from the sea to her daughter and son-in-law’s apartment. She remained calm even as wind and waves shook the wooden structure and a huge fire raged at the end of the block. She calmly joined the others in fashioning floatation devices from plastic bags in case the blaze forced them to flee.
“She’s five-foot-two and she’s 87 years old and the waves were really strong,” Dobles says. “She was not afraid. She was not altered. It’s what God sent and she confronted it without any fear whatsoever because she truly has surrendered to the will of God in life and everything she faces.”
The church lost power and heat, but she was still able to attend daily mass in the aftermath of the storm. The sea receded so she could continue her daily walks along the beach, bundling up against the cold in a neighbor’s Yankees jacket and wool hat.
“She was the first one to want to get back there,” Dobles says.
Her house was repairable, and her neighbors figured Roberts would soon be back to the rest of her routine. Stackpole joked that she would later say she had lost count of the cups of morning coffee she spilled over the years hurrying to bring in her trashcans before Roberts reached her house on the way back from Mass.
“They’re bigger than she is,” Stackpole says.
What could not be restored were all the things that had been destroyed in the basement. Someone who did not know her might have figured she was most pained by the loss of her photographs and her holiday decorations, including the Christmas vest she wore each year.
“But the one thing she kept focusing on was the cards,” Dobles says. “She said to me, ‘You could not save even one card?’ I said to her, ‘You know, Mommy, they were in a box and they got flooded and all the cards stuck together.”
That was when Roberts told him that she had been saving the cards so she could read them and think of those who were dear to her as she prepared to leave this mortal realm. The cards she had received would in that way have been as much prayers as the ones she sent.
All Dobles could think to do was buy her a big stack of cards to send out. He was on his way to a card store when he realized that what she really needed was for people to send cards to her.
He began his Facebook posting by saying, “Patsy Roberts, my mother in law, is the sweetest, most caring human being I know. A true angel on earth.”
He then sought to touch the very goodness that she always seemed to see in others. He announced he was on what he called a “quest” to get a thousand people or more send her a card by Christmas.
Again, the address to send a card:
130-04 Rockaway Beach Boulevard
Belle harbor, New York
And pass it on to any good souls you know.