Black American Creative Nonfiction

In the DLD

Nothing vaguely interesting ever happened in the DLD. How could it, with a name like the Dead Letter Department? It is where undeliverable mail goes to die in any city. Usually, it’s only a missed spelled last name or street name. Occasionally, someone may transpose a house number or leave off an alphabet like “54 C Sunset Ct.” at the most. Any permanent carrier knows the residents on their route, so they are used to sorting the mail and correctly delivering all pieces of mail and packages; even when someone has moved. When the zip code is wrong, things will land in the DLD.

In 1943 the post office assigned large cities postal zones; Zip stands for Zoning Improvement Plan implemented by the United States on July 1, 1963, throughout the states and US territories. 1963 zip codes contained five numbers like mine, 22901. The first number (2) designates the national area, the following two digits (29) determine the sectional area, and the last two numbers (01) depict the associated post office or delivery area. In 1967, with pickup-in-drop shipping, a zip code was required for second and third bulk mail. Because of the population explosion 1983, the zip code went to zip plus four, like 22901-1115, to further segment locations.

Margo Drought headed our DLD. She took pride in that, for twenty years, she had never had a piece of mail remain in the DLD for more than seven days. Until the pandemic. An impressive record…yes! One that she refused to let COVID-19 break. She tried her usual methods first:

1.   Looking up the address as written =------ it was a valid address.

2. The intended recipient no longer resided ======no forwarding address was filed.

3. Check Obituaries ========================  no obituary found,

4.  Attempts to return to sender ============letter had an address and postmark from before zip +4

5.  No other choice but to open it…

The page was a handwritten note on a pastel pink postcard, and it read:


(letter 1)

My darling Henry,

It has been three months since your last letter, and I am worried. I understand why, but I hang on to every word you write. I love you, Henry Burris Campbell. Don’t ever forget that. The war has got to end soon; it just has to. Love, Rainey Arrington-Campbell


Margo’s new lead…

1.  Look up Rainey A. Campbell =============several name changes

2. Check all listed names================obituary for Rainey Lee Arrington in 2021.

3. Find the next of kin========== letter sent to the Mortuary listed.


(letter 2)


To whom it May Concern:

I am writing to return property belonging to Rainey Lee Arrington. It can be signed for at the Seminole Trail Main Post Office between 9-5, Monday -Friday. Ask for Ref#: 6688DLD.1


Margo’s record is in jeopardy…

It’s been three days, and the Arrington letter is still unprocessed. Usually, a piece of mail moved through in a few minutes or, most, a few hours.

Second attempt to locate the owner or executor of the estate

(letter 3)


Against company policy:

I’m writing a personal note to anyone who knew Rainey Lee Arrington and Henry Burris Campbell. I’m a supervisor within the Charlottesville main post office and have been trying to return some property. You can call me at 800-DLD-0066, or it can be signed for at the Seminole Trail Main Post Office between 9-5, Monday -Friday. Ask for Ref#: 6688DLD.1.



Putting it off for over a year, cousin Lisa and I decided to pack up 1640 Riverside Court since the whole family has agreed that it should be sold out of the family. A few wanted to have a bonfire and burn it down; too many memories. Lisa and I have fond memories of sitting with Gram learning to knit and crochet but the aunts and uncles who grew up within the walls of that great three-story remember all of the fights between the husbands and Gram.

As I pulled up the driveway, the mailman emptied the overflowing box and flagged me down. “You saved me from going to the post office to stop delivery to this address for Rainey Lee Arrington, thanks.

Wait…there’s a certified letter you must pick up, and a signature is required. I had the letter with me for three days and sent it to the front last night. Please go today or tomorrow so it won’t get lost in the dead letter department. You can call this number 800-DLD-0066, or it can be signed for at the Seminole Trail Main Post Office between 9-5, Monday -Friday. Ask for Ref#: 6688DLD.1.


Poor choice of words, I thought as tears began to flow as if Gram just died yesterday. He was new to this route. The regular carrier Freda was pregnant before Gram passed a year ago and is on maternity leave. She was the last baby prediction Gram did. I didn’t think about it until now. We were in the living room, and Gram’s statement went in one ear and out the other, but now it makes perfect sense. Gram told Freda as she touched her baby bump, “She is destined for greater than I can predict. Move in and inherit much.”

Freda was the last woman Grams took in, and I know Gram would be happy to see Freda paying it forward. Several women Gram took in over the years have been referred by a mail carrier, and Freda was the link, go-between, or conductor.

The moment I had that recollection, a weight seemed to be lifted. I also realized that what the family members remember most of all is the steady stream of violence that darkened this doorway over the years. Whether Gram was being arrested for beating the largest shareholder of Commerce Bank for trying to drag his wife home by the hair or if the happy couple got drunk enough to say what they thought of each other. The Grams that Lisa and I loved didn’t emerge until they were grown and gone.

When Lisa pulled up, I told her to jump in….

At the post office, we retrieved the letter.

The letter chilled Gram because she thought Henry had abandoned his new wife and baby. Until she met her husband number four, Henry’s twin brother, who informed her that he had been killed overseas. We are the only people who know he never received her last letter.

Fast forward to 8/25/23…...that was a year ago.

The family agreed to sell 1640 Riverside Court to Freda Montgomery for $250, and each of Gram’s grandchildren received a $10 gift card, including Freda’s daughter.

Didn’t I tell you Freda was the baby Gram was pregnant with when Henry was drafted?

August 23, 2023 11:38

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Gary Phipps
19:21 Aug 31, 2023

Was very interesting to hear the process of how dead letters like that are moved around and how it literally takes the dedication of one or two people to really make a difference in someone's life with something as small as a letter. Reminds me of the butterfly effect and how small things can have big impacts.


Kimberly Walker
00:59 Sep 01, 2023

Yup, me too. This story is true; I only changed the characters' names to protect the innocent.


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05:18 Aug 31, 2023

The Dead Letter Drop procedural story was fascinating. This was a real cool idea to learn how they locate where lost letters should be sent. This sounds like its a true story as its marked as creative nonfiction, toward the end of the story its sounds like there was some rough times. "Hope the war ends..." which war was that?


Kimberly Walker
00:52 Sep 01, 2023

I'm not sure which war Gram's referred to in her note. I only mentioned it to lend a place to submit my story, but all of Gram's husbands were in the Army.


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Mary Bendickson
17:19 Aug 23, 2023

Oh, Kimberly. This is such a rich story full of history. It is worthy of a second reading unfortunately I am so far behind I need to put that off til later. Ps. I won my category at Killer Nashville Awards. My story this week should tell all about it in a thank you letter.☺️


Kimberly Walker
03:56 Aug 24, 2023

Thanks, but what is KNA?


Mary Bendickson
08:58 Aug 24, 2023

See my latest entry I posted yesterday or check out their Web site. Big writer's conference.


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