Long-lost letter brings joy to Joyce Block

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If you don’t believe in miracles, perhaps the words of the U.S. postal service, which promises “neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night” can keep the mail from going exactly where it needs to go.

Of course, you’d have to add a couple decades, and more than a little mystery, to explain the amazing letter that Joyce Block received awhile back. Block, who lost her husband Bill more than 20 years ago, never expected to hear from him these many years later. But hear from him she did, in a tale that seems pulled straight from the believe-it-or-not file.

But a little background first. From 1968-1970 William ‘Bill’ Block served his country with the US Navy aboard the USS Saratoga. Bill was “a true sailor” who spent most of his time at sea, and he liked it that way. Following his term of service, Block moved home to Lewiston.

He had been living there for several years when Rena Laumb introduced him to a Rushford girl named Joyce Brand. Brand took a liking to the tall, handsome man with the captivating brown eyes, and a year later in 1978 the two were married, Laumb serving as the Maid of Honor.

Block reenlisted with the Navy in 1980 and moved with his wife and infant daughter Megan to Norfolk, Virginia. Within 10 days Bill was out to sea. This was a culture shock for his bride, who had never lived outside of Rushford. The Blocks had no telephone or television, and knew no one. On Saturdays, Joyce and Megan would walk several blocks to the nearest payphone to call her mother collect, visit for 10 minutes, and walk back home.

In the course of their travels the Blocks lived at Great Lakes Naval Base near Chicago, where their son Beau was born, Pensacola, Fla., San Antonio, Tex., and Corpus Christi, Tex. Block served on the USS Independence, an aircraft carrier, an ammunition oiler called the USS Detroit, and the USS Lexington, which is now a museum.

The life of a military family is challenging to say the least, but Joyce wouldn’t trade her experiences for the world. A highlight of Bill’s travels for Joyce was when Bill called her from the Holy Land on Christmas Day. Another memory that stands out was the awe-inspiring sight of the sunrise on the flight deck of the carrier for the Easter morning sunrise service.

Bill retired from the Navy in 1997 and less than a year later was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The disease, which was a result of service-related exposure, took his life four months later leaving Joyce a widow just months shy of their 20th anniversary, and a single mother of two teenagers.

Five years later the Block family moved back to Rushford, this time with Megan’s young son William in tow. They were living in the trailer court when the flood of 2007 swept through, completely destroying their home and everything in it. Every remaining physical piece of her husband receded with the floodwaters, leaving Joyce nothing but her memories to hold on to.

Two years later tragedy struck the family yet again, when Megan, not yet thirty, died suddenly as a result of the H1N1 strain of the flu virus, leaving her then eight-year-old son William behind. Joyce found herself raising her young grandson. She’d lost her husband, now her daughter and  everything she owned in the flood.

But sometimes, out of the darkness, a glimmer of light shines bright.

On June 5, 2018 Joyce received an unusual phone call. “It came up as an unknown number, and I normally wouldn’t have answered it” she recalled. “It was a man, and he was asking for Joyce Block. Normally I would have said that she wasn’t home, could I take a message.”

Instead Block asked who was calling. The man introduced himself as Craig, and said he worked for the railroad and was currently in Winona. He’d been walking along the railroad tracks when something unexpected caught his eye: a letter, just lying there on the ground. Craig picked it up and read that it had been sent from one William Block to his parents Mr. and Mrs. Clarence Block, mailed from the USS Saratoga on August 31, 1969. The letter was in perfect condition.

Joyce was stunned by the news. “Everyone involved with the letter was gone. Bill was gone, his parents had both passed away- the only person (Craig) could have found was his sister Karen.”

 Bill’s sister Karen, who was referred to in the letter, resides in a group home, which is where Craig found out about Joyce. “I said to him, ‘Let me tell you, my husband passed away in ’98, and I don’t have anything with his handwriting on it,’’ Joyce recalled.

Every last letter, card, document, and photograph was destroyed in the flood. This was like a gift sent straight from heaven. Craig said, “Ma’am, you’ve made my day.” He didn’t realize how much more he had made hers.

The more Joyce thought about it, the more amazing the story became. The obvious question being: where did the letter come from? It had rained just a day or two before, and the letter had not gotten wet. Even one night outside would have resulted in dew damaging the paper. How did it just appear after nearly fifty years? Joyce shares, “It’s funny because in the letter, Bill talks about mail getting lost.” The passage she referred to, written by Bill reads: “Did you hear about that plane that got hijacked? Well it had 40 bags of Saratoga mail on which is about 14,000 pounds of mail. So I hope that package that you sent wasn’t on it. I just can’t wait to get back because I just can’t wait to get back to see you all.”

Yet another source of wonder was found in the person who discovered the letter. “He could have thrown it away or crumpled it up, but he didn’t,” Joyce said. Instead, he put it in his pocket until he could get done with his shift and do some research.

 Joyce noted that Craig had to spend a fair amount of time and money to track down the rightful owner and then make sure the letter arrived safely at its destination. In the note he sent  with the letter Craig said, “I also hope it brings you the joy it does me knowing it found its rightful place after all these years!”

Joyce ‘s response was one of grateful disbelief, “He wanted nothing in return. This is the kind of thing you hear on TV; you don’t know people that this kind of thing actually happens to. There really are angels that walk on this earth.”