Preparing to sell her childhood home in Seattle after the death of her elderly father, Amanda finds six letters tucked in the back of his bedside table. Reading through the letters late that night, she wonders if her father, a retired postman, had meant for her to find and deliver them? Amanda doesn’t mention the letters to her best friend Joanie when they share a bottle of wine the next evening. But the letters are still on her mind the next morning and she packs them in her carryon to go home to Los Angeles.
Once home, she visits her therapist, Laura, and talks about her struggle with the classic “empty nest”, now that her three children are living independently. She also struggles with the bitterness she feels toward her husband Dick who has recently left her for a younger woman. At loose ends as to what direction her life should go, she thinks perhaps the letters are a sign from her father: a project to pursue with a dash of mystery. Deliveries of the letters would require travel to Seattle, Los Angeles, Paso Robles, and even Paris, but Laura cautions her that there may be danger involved for a woman in her 60s going to unknown addresses.
With the first three deliveries, Amanda is stunned by the life changing choices of the recipients. Jerry learns of a baby her fathered and has no desire to meet, Marguerite is reminded of her secret friendship with a gay serviceman, and Kathy, a millennial, couldn’t care less when she reads the letter from a forgotten childhood friend.
Over the next few months at home in Los Angeles, Amanda is befriended by Frederick, an elderly gentleman who lives in her apartment building. He becomes a mentor and confidant and suggests she write a book about her experiences. And then there is Robbie, the young salesclerk who sold Amanda a new bicycle. Their friendship quickly progresses to a sexual relationship Amanda did not see coming.
Back on the road to deliver a letter in Paso Robles, she meets Cynthia and Sarah and is relieved the delay in the late mail delivery has not stalled their happiness. Tracking down the MacGregors, whose envelope includes a key, proves intriguing. The siblings, now adults dealing with the eldest’s battle with Alzheimer’s, welcome the stranger into their lives with unexpected results. The last “delivery” requires traveling to Pittsburgh and then Paris with the potential of reuniting two lovers from World War II.
After a year of exploration delivering mail, that includes self-discovery, Amanda attends a farewell dinner with her family and friends before she begins her own adventure, starting a solo trip around the world. She writes a letter she will never deliver – to her father.
Amanda turned off the key to her car and waited. She wasn’t sure why she was waiting. It had been years since she had been back to the old neighborhood, years since she’d even set foot in her childhood home, but with Pop’s passing the inevitable chore of clearing out the homestead was now before her.
“Mom, what are we waiting for?” Twenty-five-year-old Suzanne put her phone in her pocket and stared at her. “You’re not going to get weird about coming here, are you? I mean, the house isn’t like haunted or anything?”
Amanda rolled her eyes and sighed. “No, it’s not haunted. It’s just a dozen lifetimes ago. I wish your grandfather had let me sell the house when he moved to the nursing home, but in the back of his mind I think he always expected to move back here.”
“Yeah, well, that was an unrealistic wish, don’t you think?”
“Probably not for a 95-year-old man who was not thrilled giving up his car keys at 94! This home was the last shred of his independence that he could cling to.” A catch in Amanda’s voice caught her daughter’s attention.
“OK, then, let’s make the best of this and see what kind of challenges await us. Com’on, Mom. Pop the trunk and I’ll grab the trash bags and cleaning stuff. I can play some upbeat tunes on my phone and we can dance our way from the first floor, up the steps to the second. What do ya say?”
“What do I say?” thought Amanda. “I grew up on this block. I know every tree. I know the homes on either side, not by number, but by family name. The Martins’ lived to our right. Their oldest daughter, Mitzi babysat us. The Jackson’s lived on our left since before we moved in fifty years ago. Mom and Dad played canasta with the Thompson’s across the street every Friday night. I’ve been gone for more than half my life, living a thousand miles away from Seattle. Since the kids were in school, her parents always came south to California to visit. Anyway, Pop loved this house. He knew everybody within blocks because of his mail route.”
Suzanne was calling from the porch. “Get a move on there, missy! You have the keys, and this house will not empty itself.”
Amanda strolled up the walk, being careful not to step on the cracks as she relived her seven-year-old self’s nightmare of breaking someone’s back.
As she fumbled with the double locks, Suzanne’s phone buzzed from her pocket. “Gotta take this, Mother. I’ll be in in a sec.”
What surprised Amanda most as she entered the hallway was the familiar smell. She’d always liked the lingering odor of her father’s cigar. Her mother constantly complained about vacuuming errant ashes from the foyer and front porch where he relaxed after changing from his serge blue postal uniform, but it reminded Amanda of the best moments she spent with him.
After dinner he would light his cigar and take the evening paper to the porch where she would sit nearby on the steps doing her homework. More often than not at some point he would read aloud a paragraph that caught his attention. “Listen to this, Mandy!”
She never minded when he interrupted her reading. Sometimes he would add; “What do you think about that?” encouraging her to share her opinion.
Wandering into the living room, Amanda covered her mouth to avoid inhaling the dust that seemed to layer everything from the sofa cushions to the lamp shades, even leaving faint footprints as she walked across the worn carpet. She was having second thoughts about not making that phone call to the cleaning service.
“I suppose I thought it should be family touching Mom and Pop’s things.”
“Who are you talking to?” Suzanne put the bucket and vacuum down in the hall. “Yuck, I should have brought some masks to wear. Where do you want to start, Mom? I could work down here if you want to tackle the bedrooms. There may be a few less “tchotchkes” upstairs.
Before she climbed the stairs, Amanda noticed her father’s favorite cuckoo clock in the hall. She pulled each of the weight chains gently as she had years ago and reset the tiny hands to 10:10.
When she heard the cuckoo twelve times, she realized she’d barely made a dent in her father’s closet. Suzanne had made three signs (that girl was uber organized) – Save – Donate – Toss. They worked well for his old shirts and seldom used sport coats. Sitting on the edge of the bed, she noticed the single drawer in his nightstand and opened it. Loose change, his money clip (which he was advised not to take to the nursing home), a couple of #2 pencils which he used for his nightly crossword puzzle, and a Bible were all handy by his bedside. She was closing the drawer when she realized there were papers stuck in the very back.
“Mom, I’m starving!” Suzanne yelled up the stairs. “I’m making a food run to Henry’s Deli on the corner.” She bounded up the stairs two at a time, startling Amanda as she quickly closed the drawer.