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Backstory: Luckiest Twofer


Published December 28, 2022 at 10:00 a.m.

Steve Goldstein’s broken mailbox - FILE: BEAR CIERI
  • File: Bear Cieri
  • Steve Goldstein’s broken mailbox

This "backstory" is a part of a collection of articles that describes some of the obstacles that Seven Days reporters faced while pursuing Vermont news, events and people in 2022.

Every responsible journalist understands the importance of protecting confidential sources, but I have no reservations about revealing the wellspring of not one, but two stories I wrote in 2022. For the first time in a long career, my source was an inanimate object — specifically, a mailbox.

It all started when we moved into our Shelburne home last year, and the local postmaster said, because our inherited postbox lacked a flag, we would not receive mail. We were personae non posto — nonpersons as far as the U.S. Postal Service was concerned. So I went out and bought a fairly large cerulean blue box with a red-as-the-commies flag. Raising the flag felt like giving a middle finger to an uncivil servant.

Fast-forward to this past February, when we awoke one morning to fresh snowfall and a decapitated mailbox, its roadside post obliterated. The furious finger of blame pointed to the town snowplow. Happens pretty regularly, the clerk's office explained, adding: "Call Paul."

"Who?" I replied. "Paul Goodrich, the town highway superintendent. Here's his cell." He answered quickly and fessed up right away. Little did I know I was talking to a legend. Long to short: He replaced my box on a sturdier post, said he would fix it any time he knocked it down, let me ride shotgun on the plow during a storm, gave me a lovely yarn to write and is now a good friend.

My editors had the Goodrich story scheduled for the next Winter Preview Issue, seven months away. I argued for an earlier slot, noting that Goodrich was nearing his 75th birthday. No dice. But in a subsequent chat with Goodrich, he casually mentioned that he had died some years before. Yep, he'd suffered a heart attack while plowing and, on his way to the hospital, "coded." He lived to tell the tale of what the experts call a near-death experience — when death gives you a mulligan. Presented with this new evidence, the editors published the legend of Goodrich ASAP.

Months later, when I recounted the Goodrich NDE at a dinner party, so many light bulbs went on that we must have blown a transformer. Why not find other Vermonters who would share their own stories of NDEs? A perfect fit for the upcoming first-ever Death Issue.

So one man, two stories — and all due to a maimed mailbox. That's a flag I'm pleased to salute.