U.S. News

01.28.13

After Sandy Swept Away a Lifetime of Letters, 12,000 New Ones Arrive

After 87-year-old Patsy Roberts lost decades of notes from friends and family to Hurricane Sandy, New Yorkers and others from around the world sent her new ones, reports Michael Daly.

The cards arrived by the thousands in response to a Facebook posting and a Daily Beast report asking for new ones to replace those from family and friends that 87-year-old Patsy Roberts of Rockaway, Queens, had been saving for decades to read in her final hours only for them to be destroyed by Hurricane Sandy.

And these 12,000 new cards were not only from the United States, but also from Australia and New Zealand and Canada and China and Korea and Japan and Kenya and Lebanon and Nigeria and Latvia and India and Haiti and Germany and Morocco and the Philippines and Malaysia and Greece and Slovenia and Iceland and Sweden and Mexico and seemingly every other country on earth.

“When the cards started to come, I had to cheer up,” she says. “I had no choice.”

She adds, “It’s the most wonderful experience I ever had.”

She goes on to report, “I had two invitations to weddings. One was in California.”

She was moved not just by the magnitude of the response but by the thought and care that went into each card, be it from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, or a youngster named Jeremy who assured her that her lost cards would be waiting for her “on the other side.” Jeremy included a drawing of an angel leading Roberts into heaven.

“By the hand,” Roberts notes.

On their part, the writers were clearly moved not just by the loss of her cards, but also by the description of her in the Daily Beast story. She is so buoyantly energetic that she takes two-mile walks on the Rockaway beach at a pace that exhausts her grandchildren. And on the way back from daily mass, she performs such secular devotions as putting her neighbors’ trash cans back in front of their houses and placing on the doorstep any newspapers the deliverer has just tossed on the sidewalk.

“I hate to pass by a house, especially if I know they’re working,” she says. “It’ll be easier for them to just open the door and pick up the paper.”

That simple goodness touched the same in others as far as the Internet can reach. And in a poetic twist the returned goodness manifested itself not as emails but as so many actual cards that Roberts half jokes it might have helped out the world’s ailing postal services, even if it was a bit of burden for her particular mailman.

“All the stamps,” Roberts notes.

One woman sent a photo of herself posting a letter to her fiancé more than a half century ago while he was off fighting in World War II. She also enclosed as a testament to mailed wishes some subsequent photos taken by her and her safely returned new husband on their honeymoon in Washington, D.C.

“Most of them are in English,” she says. “I try to read every single one of them. Each one is precious.”

The woman could not have known when she sent the pictures to Roberts that her own husband, Walter Roberts, had served in World War II and landed at Normandy and that Roberts had spent her own honeymoon in the nation’s capital, followed by a happy 64 years together in Rockaway until his death in 2010.

Before his retirement, Walter Roberts had been an insurance broker, and Patsy Roberts had worked in a card store. She had taken to sending cards to family and friends on all occasions and even for no particular reason other than to say she was thinking of them.

“The people started sending cards to me,” she remembers. “So, I had boxes and boxes of them.”

She stored the boxes in the basement of her home just one house in from the beach, not imagining that a hurricane might do what Sandy did.

“I’ve been through many hurricanes,” she says. “Never in a million years did I think anything like that could happen.”

Video screenshot

Watch video of vets cleaning up the Rockaways after Hurricane Sandy, helping out people like Patsy Roberts who lost their nearest and dearest possessions.

Instead she now has new cards, such as one on which a youngster drew undersea creatures writing letters.

“I’m sorry all of your letters washed away,” he wrote. “I’d like to think the fish found them and read them and learned how great you are then they decided to write you.”

If no cards actually arrived from under the sea, they came from seemingly everywhere else.

“Most of them are in English,” she says. “I try to read every single one of them. Each one is precious.”

Until her house is repaired, Roberts will be living in a second-floor apartment in Rockaway with her daughter Virginia Dobles and her son-in-law, the artist Cristian Dobles. He was the one who made the original Facebook posting saying he hoped to inspire as many as 1,000 people to write her. The Daily Beast joined the effort, and the result is the 12,000 cards.

“It’s a good feeling,” she said. “You just feel, oh, this is great. Life is good—after all.”