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Friday, December 23, 2011 10:57:42 PM

Article in Princeton Daily Clarion on Thursday

This was in todays Princeton Daily Clarion, it is so great to know there are people like Eric in this world. He was a blessing to this young child.

Mail carrier's young friend left big shoes to fill

Editor's Note: Eric Powell is City Route 6 mail carrier in Princeton. His young friend, Will Dunn, died in Friday's head-on crash in Evansville.


For The Daily Clarion

PRINCETON-One might think this time of year that this story may be about footprints in the snow. This story, however, isn't one of the footprints that have been left behind from walking the many miles through all kinds of weather.

This story is of the footprints left behind on one mailman's heart.

My story begins with a little boy named Will. He has lived on my mail route with his grandparents since he was four months old.

His family was told he'd never walk or talk. Grandma Edna would bring him out in her arms almost daily to get the mail.

As he got a bit older, the doctor put those "Forest Gump"-looking leg braces on his little legs and he would waddle his way out to get the mail from me. It seemed like no time before he shed those things and was making his way out to greet me daily.

One reason might be that I would meet him with a lollipop every day, the Dum-Dum brand with a big variety of flavors. He pretty much liked them all, though he was not a big fan of butterscotch.

He would run out, no matter what the weather, stocking feet, bare feet, one shoe on and one shoe off. No matter what his attire, he had to be the one out to meet me.

Edna and I just about fell over one day when little Will made his way out to get the mail from me and he said his first word: "Mailman!"

As Edna was ecstatic with joy, I found myself trying to fight back the tears.

Then, just like that, he was talking up a storm with me as I would make my rounds by his home.

I was told of a story when Edna found Will upstairs, being awfully quiet. She found him sitting with a pair of scissors.

Edna shouted, "Will, what are you doing?"

His response was, "Eric the Mailman!"

I never knew my shaved head would start such a thing.

Will was always making things for me. Papers from his coloring book that made their way on and off my fridge. Little presents at the holidays. He once made a plaster mold of his foot for me in his special education class. He painted it up just right for me, and was so proud of it as he handed it to me, of course, in exchange for his lollipop and mail.

I couldn't believe that of all the people in his life to have on his mind, that I would be one of them. He sure did now how to make a fellow feel pretty special.

Will had seen me one day after work on my Victory motorcycle. So the next day on the mail route, he had to ask me all about it.

I told him, "Why don't I stop by and you and I will ride on down to Taco Tierra and get us a sweet tea?"

You should have seen the look on his little face as he sat up so proudly on the back of that thing. You might say Cloud 9 was hovering over an orange V-twin that day.

We sat at the restaurant, slurpin' down our tea and talked about school, lollipops and as many other things as a 7-year-old can discuss.

What a day!

Time went on and we continued our daily routine, day in and day out. Seldom would we not see one another and all the other carriers who would take my place knew to have a lollipop ready for Will.

They knew better than to show up empty-handed in Baldwin Heights. Most of the children in the neighborhood had caught on to this as well. Quite a few had begun to keep an eye out for the little white mail truck coming down the road. You might hear a few in the neighborhood screaming, "Here comes the mailman, let's get a lollipop!"

About four weeks ago, Will's grandparents approached me and wanted to discuss Will's future.

They said they were looking for godparents for Will, and wanted to know if my wife Dana and I would consider that role. I told her that we would proudly accept that responsibility if that day should ever come.

But those will be shoes that we will never fill. On Thursday, just a few short days before Christmas, we will lay Will down to his final resting place. A tragedy cut his life short at 8 years old.

Many who may have seen Will might have classified him as "special needs," but for me, the "special" far outweighed the "needs."

I'll give Will his last lollipop Thursday, but this time I will leave him with two (don't worry, no butterscotch).

One for Will and one for Jesus.

Will can give Jesus his lollipop and tell him Happy Birthday from both of us.

I'll tend to my appointed rounds through rain, sleet and snow. But for me, there will never be a day that I walk these streets that he does not cross my mind.

City Route 6 here in Princeton will never be the same. As I look upon the footprints that I leave behind, none will ever be as big as the footprint he left on my heart.