He Got Mail

Written By: Suzanne Strempek Shea

On the last holiday weekend of each summer, one of our regional television stations broadcasts the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Association Labor Day Telethon. Every half hour or so, our local anchors take over and ask for pledges, promising to broadcast the names and home towns of all donors.

Moved to be benevolent one Labor Day in the early 1990s, I reached for the phone and in mid-dial got a great idea. Wouldn’t it be fun to hear Homer’s name on the air? I glanced at the year-old beagle-setter mix we’d adopted a few months before. The operator picked up. I gave the requested information. And, at the next local break, the announcement was made: a pledge of $10 had been made, by Homer Shea of Bondsville, Mass.

Still asleep when the big moment came, Homer got no thrill. A few weeks later, though, he did get something else:

Mail.

Through the glassine window of an envelope bearing a photo of Jerry Lewis and that year’s MDA ambassador, the name MR. HOMER SHEA floated above our address. Inside, Mr. Jerry Lewis extended thanks to Mr. Homer Shea, reminded him of his pledge, and suggested he feel free to add additional dollars as he made out his check or filled in the little boxes with his credit card numbers.

I sent the check but didn’t toss the request in the recycling box. I kept it to show to visitors – hey, look who got mail! Each day after that, as I’d walk back up the driveway from the mailbox, I’d call to Homer:  “Nothing for you today, boyo. Sorry.”

But that soon changed.

Homer began to receive more mail. And not just from Jerry but Victoria, whose Secret was all but revealed on page after page of a fancy lingerie catalog mailed to the attention of someone who wore nothing more than a red woven collar.

Next to arrive were fat envelopes bearing coupons and other money-saving offers from a variety of local stores. Upon opening the envelope bearing his name, H SHEA could experience discounts on oil changes, life insurance and visits by Roto Rooter personnel.

My husband and I had footed Homer’s MDA pledge but things would stop at his benevolence. Good looks buying you little in dog culture, we knew well that the pup was broke and would be utilizing none of the advertised services. Soon, though, his financial status had a bigtime chance to change: the credit card companies found our boyo, and forms imprinted with Homer Shea and his street and town and ZIP code awaited his pawprint in exchange for low-interest rates and a starting boost of 15,000 points on an airline miles program via which he could travel the world.

Not a year after the Telethon, Homer was receiving too many pieces of mail to save them all. Then the technology increased.

One evening I picked up the phone to hear, “May I speak with Homer Shea?”

I could only ask “Who’s calling, please?”

“Visa Corporation.”

“Sorry,” I said. “He can’t talk right now.”

Which, really, was only the truth.

The next telemarketer seeking Homer was informed “He’s out in the yard” – another fact, one as true as the the response I gave to the next business that phoned in search of my dog’s time and money: “Sorry, he’s all tied up right now.”

I was Homer’s secretary for nearly 14 years. I got a kick from collecting mail and fielding phone calls for a dog, and that continued right up through the time I had to inform a telemarketer, “I’m very sorry to say that Homer doesn’t live here anymore.”

Homer now lives in our memories and, sporadically, in our mailbox. Including each and every August, when Mr. Jerry Lewis writes to tell Mr. Homer Shea that he’s relied on his kindness in the past and he hopes he can do the same this year.

The day of the Telethon, I call the station. I make the pledge. Then I wait for the reading of the list of donors, where Homer Shea of Bondsville lives on.

Suzanne Strempek Shea

(Photo Credit: Helen Peppe)

Suzanne Strempek Shea’s eleven books include “This Is Paradise: An Irish Mother’s Grief, an African Village’s Plight and the Medical Clinic That Brought Fresh Hope to Both” and the novel “Make a Wish But Not For Money.”

She’s been featured on NBC’s “Today” and National Public Radio, and in USA Today and The Washington Post. She has freelanced for publications including The Boston Globe, The Irish Times, Yankee and Bark.

Suzanne teaches in the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast MFA program and is writer in residence at Bay Path University in Longmeadow, Mass.

Website: suzannestrempekshea.com