- Associated Press - Monday, January 23, 2017

DANBURY, Conn. (AP) - One afternoon in mid-December, Meghan Henriques-Parker visited with her grandfather at his Bethel nursing home. Jim Gaboardi’s dementia was getting worse, and the man who had once been so gregarious had barely said anything during their lunch.

Then one of the workers began passing out residents’ mail.

Gaboardi, who had worked for decades as a mailman in Danbury, turned to Henriques-Parker and said, “It’s been a long time since I’ve received any mail.”

Henriques-Parker began to cry. She decided that Gaboardi, who turned 89 last week, would not go another day without getting mail.

She posted on Facebook, asking friends and family to send him a Christmas card.

“Now, let’s deliver mail to a man who delivered it to us for so many years,” she wrote.

Henriques-Parker expected a few friends to send cards. But after more than 100 people shared her post, mail began streaming in from across the country.

A little more than a month later, Gaboardi has received some 250 cards. Most of them hang on the wall in his room at Maplewood at Stony Hill, where he moved in August, shortly after Dorothy, his wife of 65 years, passed away.

Some cards are from those who knew him as a postman and others from his friends at the Danbury Drum Corps, who attached photos of Gaboardi when he was young. Many are from schoolchildren and strangers, including a postal worker who described what her workday was like and a woman living in an Alzheimer’s facility elsewhere in the country.

Before the mail began arriving, Henriques-Parker said, it had been like the “light had left his eyes.”

Now, she said, “All of sudden he’s talking again. He’s eating again. It’s like they inspired him. It’s like he was ready to die and now he just woke up.”

At times, Gaboardi received 20 to 30 cards a day, along with fruit baskets, cookies and other treats. He shared the goodies with the other residents, and if they didn’t get mail of their own, he let them open one of his.

“He kind of became their little local celebrity,” Henriques-Parker said.

The family described it as their “Christmas miracle.”

Gaboardi’s daughter, Debbie Henriques, said he had been unable to come home for Thanksgiving and the family doubted he could manage more than an hour on Christmas Day. He stayed eight hours, sneaking cookies throughout the day.

“We sang, he sang, he was just very engaging and he never slept at all,” Henriques said. “He enjoyed the whole day.”

Although the holidays are over, Henriques-Parker said, the cards show no signs of stopping. People have contacted her about sending letters for Valentine’s Day and Easter.

Many cards include photos of senders and their families. Some are from Gaboardi’s old customers, who remember him from when they were children.

“People were writing, ‘Mr. Gaboardi, you used to be my postman. I moved to Virginia and I’ll never forget you,’” Henriques-Parker said. “Some letters were so personal. You don’t realize the impact that someone has on your life.”

Gaboardi and his wife were also well-known in the community and enjoyed going out to eat. They had dinner at Pizza Hut every Friday night for 30 years and got the employees Christmas gifts each year, Henriques-Parker said.

Gaboardi, a World War II veteran, was involved with the Catholic War Veterans, Lion’s Club and Danbury Drum Corps. After getting out of the Navy, Gaboardi was a hatter before working at the post office, a job Henriques said he loved.

“I think he liked the personal touch, being able to say ‘Hi’ to people that he’d see,” she said.

That part of his personality has remained, despite his dementia, Henriques said. He still says “Thank you” and “Hello” to people who walk by.

“Everyone says, ‘Your father is such a gentleman,’” she said. “And you know what, that’s the one thing he’s never lost. He’s very kind. He’s very gentle.”


Information from: The News-Times, https://www.newstimes.com

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