05/11/1992 at 01:00 AM EDT
MARGARET ANDERSON OF YARMOUTH, Maine, gave birth to her son, Richard, on Friday. On Saturday she received a card from her friend and neighbor, Kenneth Hathaway, congratulating her on the new arrival. Between those two days, though, a few things happened: World War II, Elvis, Vietnam—more than half of the 20th century, in fact. Anderson, now 84 and living in a Yarmouth nursing home, got Hathaway's card on Feb. 8, 1992. It was postmarked Feb. 8, 1937—three days after she had given birth to her son.
Anderson found the yellowed envelope sitting on a bedside table when she returned from a game of beano (a down east version of bingo) to her room at the Coastal Manor home in the midafternoon. "I wondered who could have sent it," she says. When she opened it and found the congratulatory message and the signature, she says, "it confused me at first." No wonder. Kenneth Hathaway had been dead for more than a decade, and Anderson's son, Richard, died three years ago, at age 52.
Ron Smith, the carrier who delivered the note, is also at a loss. He says he returned from his route one afternoon and found the envelope on his desk. "It was addressed to some hospital I never heard of," he says, "but I recognized Maggie's name and put it aside to deliver the next day." Curiously, the hospital where Anderson had her child has since been converted into the Coastal Manor nursing home, where she presently lives. Smith says he never noticed the postmark (the three-cent stamp had been removed).
Smith's boss, postmaster Dan Perry, doesn't think the card was "in the mail stream" all these years. The prevailing theory at the post office, he says, is that the letter was delivered, to someone, years ago, and was recently rediscovered and taken to the post office.
"I don't have the least idea where it's been all these years," says Margaret Anderson.
Mail carrier Smith has the perfect alibi. "It wasn't my fault," he says. "I've only worked here 13 years."