Melissa Garcia, a four-year veteran of the U.S. Postal Service, was fatigued from the pre-Christmas rush Dec. 18 and ready to move on to her next stop when she noticed three days of newspapers in front of a house on her route.
She decided to knock on the door of 82-year-old Joe Garcia, no relation, just to make certain he was OK.
She got no answer.
“His house is like the last hour of my route. At that point, I’m usually doing a countdown in my head to the end of my shift,” Melissa Garcia recalled. “It was really cold and dark.”
Concerned, Melissa Garcia started asking neighbors if they’d seen Joe Garcia. They hadn’t. One was mystified why smoke from Joe Garcia’s chimney — a common sight — wasn’t billowing and hadn’t in the past few days.
The mail carrier called police, who showed up to make a welfare check. As they knocked on the door, and Melissa Garcia tapped on a window, a faint cry came from inside the house on Escudero Street.
It was Joe Garcia.
“I said, ‘Joe, can you hear me? Help is here,’ ” Melissa Garcia said.
That help — and Melissa Garcia’s willingness to go the extra mile — probably saved Joe Garcia’s life. He had fallen down his basement stairs Dec. 15. He said he was able to climb back to ground level, but couldn’t reach his cellphone on a counter above the cold tile floor.
“I wasn’t dead, but I was close,” Joe Garcia said in a telephone interview. “Thank God for her I’m still around.
“I was so thirsty. My mouth was blistered,” Joe Garcia said. “I remember hearing voices outside and just trying to yell.”
Joe Garcia, who lives alone — his children are out of state — said he spent a week in the hospital and is now back to walking under his own power.
Melissa Garcia, a Capital High School graduate who spent 27 years in retail before joining the Postal Service, said she can have as many as 650 stops on her route. She’s on the street six or seven hours most days, and she said she enjoys making connections with people, though they have to be short so she can complete her work.
“We don’t have a lot of time to hang out and talk to somebody,” she said. “But I would talk to Mr. Garcia periodically.”
She said she’d engage with Joe Garcia about the weather during the summer months when he was working outside or in his yard.
In the back of her mind, she said, she thought of an incident in her own life a few years back. Her daughter, Hanna Garcia, had noticed her grandfather’s door locked late into the afternoon. That was unusual. Alertly, she tipped off her mother. A close check revealed he was in need of emergency medical assistance, Melissa Garcia said.
“It was that whole ‘what if’ thing,” she said.
Those kinds of experiences, she said, stay with a person. Even on a cold December night when the shift is almost over.
“Young and old,” Melissa Garcia said, “we should probably all check on each other.”