Snail mail Jerry Miley tells his story of a lost letter dating back to 1932
STEVE MARCELLA Review Correspondent
, Staff Writer
Not long ago, Jeffrey Miley was helping his father Jerry clear out some boxes from his attic in Crisfield, Md. In one of them, they came across a stack of Jerry’s old school papers from his days at Ephrata’s Washington Elementary School in the 1930s.
Tucked among the papers was a yellowed envelope postmarked Dec. 13, 1932. It was handwritten, with a 1.5 cent stamp bearing a portrait of a young George Washington, celebrating the 200th anniversary of his birth. The envelope was addressed to Gerald La Mar Miley of Lake Street in Ephrata, and 80 years after its writer had mailed it, it had finally arrived.
Jeffrey Miley reacted as many people would, eager to open the envelope, wondering what might be inside. Had his father missed some communication that might have changed his life or failed to receive news that might have brought good fortune, or steered him away from some unknown tragedy?
"Open it, dad," said Jeffrey.
"I’ll open it later," said Jerry. He set the envelope aside and continued to sort through the boxes.
"I said, ‘You’re 80 years old,’" remembered Jeffrey. "’How much later is later?’"
He shouldn’t have been surprised. In fact, he really wasn’t. The senior Miley was known to put things off. In fact, he was locally famous for it.
In the early 1950s, Jerry Miley began to build a boat in front of the workshop at his home on a busy Ephrata street. Halfway through the project, he stopped working on the boat, and it sat there half-finished for years, attracting the attention of the citizenry and the local press.
When the missing letter was written in 1932, in the depths of the Great Depression, Jerry Miley was two years old. His father owned Ephrata’s Miley Dairy, which the Mileys continued to run until they moved away from the area in the late-50s.
In spite of the Depression, Ephrata had remained a busy and relatively prosperous town, its local industries somewhat immune to the swings of the market, since they met basic needs that had remained unchanged for centuries.
"The brick yard was a big employer," said Arthur Brubaker, a friend of the Mileys. "There was a foundry at the end of State Street, and a big mill next to the hardware store." Other stores downtown sold music, produce, clothing – whatever a family might need – at prices they could usually afford.
On Friday and Saturday nights, the stores were open late.
"You could hardly ever get a parking space," remembered Brubaker. "The sidewalks were full of people." As for the Depression? "People didn’t really think of it. If somebody didn’t have a job, the borough would give them one sweeping the streets and pay them 25 cents an hour."
Brubaker went on to reveal the reason Jerry Miley’s boat project had taken so long to complete.
"He went into the service during the Korean War and left the boat half-finished." After the war, Jerry didn’t take long to start building again. He bought an old truck engine to power his new boat, then towed it to Chesapeake Bay, where the Mileys would go to cruise and vacation and fish.
Jeffrey Miley eventually did convince his father to open the letter. It had been typed using green ink, with the words "Christmas Memory" at the top. "Do you remember the calendar you received from us last year?" it began. "We have another one waiting for you."
The letter, signed by Mrs. J.P. Burkholder, went on to suggest that her readers be sure to "inspect our Christmas stock" while picking up their calendars. Burkholder’s store offered a variety of "Christmas gifts for all ages, including Grandmother." One could buy clothing, pottery, needlework, specialized embroidery, and "toys that are more unusual than the average store shows."
Neither of the Mileys could remember there being a Burkholder’s in Ephrata. They asked around, and no one else they knew could either. Eventually, Arthur Brubaker told them that he remembered two different businesses that had borne the name.
"One sold ladders, paint, some tools, building supplies, that kind of thing," said Brubaker. "It was on the south side of Main Street near Akron Road. At one time they were connected with the Green Dragon market. The other Burkholder’s was a department store on the north side of Main Street."
That was the one where two-year-old Jerry Miley’s mother had signed him up for his free calendar, and an 80-year-old piece of junk mail began its journey to a cluttered old box in a faraway attic.
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