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Sean Kirst: A stranger at the post office, with wings

Sean Kirst: A stranger at the post office, with wings

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Leonard and Alfreda Kostelny

Leonard Kostelny and his wife, Freda, at their home in Orchard Park. 

Leonard Kostelny – he prefers that you call him Lenny – is 88, an Orchard Park retiree who spent decades installing telephone equipment for Western Electric. He had something happen to him last week at the post office that stayed on his mind, and he kept thinking about it until a friend suggested he pick up the phone and call the paper.

The way Lenny sees it, this is his best shot at saying thanks.

Lenny gets around on a cane. He is recovering from a stroke and also has severe arthritis. For the most part, he has stayed near his home since the pandemic started more than a year ago, both to be safe and beyond all else because his wife, Freda, needs him.

They met in the 1950s. Lenny, whose dad worked at a biscuit factory, grew up in Buffalo, not far from the Central Terminal. Lenny attended Burgard Vocational – he remains a loyal and passionate alumnus – before deciding to enlist in the Air Force. 

More than four years later, after he finished his service and traveled home, he showed up at a Sunday night dance at the Plewacki Legion Post on Paderewski Drive. They were playing Elvis Presley songs on the night he met Freda. "We both liked to dance," Lenny said, and it turned out Freda lived on the same street in Kaisertown where he grew up.

That gave them something to talk about, right away, once they stopped dancing. Now they are grandparents, married 62 years. Lenny says with admiration that Freda "is doing pretty good" while dealing with both Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, and he sums up the basis of his devotion in four words.

“Because I love her,” he said, and his voice cracked.

Sometimes, a home care health worker comes over to help with Freda’s care, which gives Lenny the occasional chance to leave the house for the things he has to do. Last week, he needed to finish off his taxes, and he decided to make a quick Monday run to the Orchard Park Post Office, a place he had not been to in "forever," as he puts it.

He was the second one in line that morning, leaning on his cane, when the postal workers opened the door. Once it was his turn he brought several fat envelopes to the clerk, planning to send them off by certified mail, and the clerk explained there were a few things he would need to fill out.

This was both a surprise and – for Lenny – no small deal. The arthritis in his hands is so bad he can hardly hold a pen, much less write legibly. Lenny turned around and was surprised to see a long line had formed behind him, seemingly from nowhere. "I'm sorry I'm taking all your time," he said to the women and men who were waiting, and he had turned to explain his dilemma to the clerk when he felt a presence at his side.

The woman had one condition. She was surprised when she met a couple of us from The Buffalo News in a driveway on Bridlewood Drive South in her Clarence neighborhood, and at first she wasn’t sure she wanted to see anything about what she was doing in the paper. She thought it over. She took a good look at

It was a woman in a mask who had been standing in line, someone he had never seen before. She said quietly that she could help, and she picked up a pen while he told her the information he needed to put down on the forms. She wrote everything out on his behalf, finished it up and then stepped back.

A grateful Lenny completed the process, asked the guy for a book of stamps and reached toward his pocket. The clerk said it totaled up to $24. Lenny pulled out his wallet and glanced inside.

All he had was a $10 bill. His credit card was not there.

Just like that, it swept across him: The night before, he had given his credit card to his son to use for picking up some medications at a pharmacy, for Freda. Afterward, Lenny forgot to stick the card back in his wallet. Most of us have been in a similar situation at some point, but solving it was not an easy deal for Lenny. 

He was standing in front of a long line, leaning on his cane, $14 short. Lenny was already envisioning what this would mean, the probability that he would need to go home, grab the card and then return on a journey to the post office that would be a drawn out and laborious back-and-forth.

In resignation, he held up the $10 to the clerk and said, “This is all I have. What do we do?”

The answer was instant and unexpected. The same woman was at his side again, saying in a warm voice, "I've got it." She quickly slid her card in and out of the payment slot before stepping back.

She covered the entire $24, which even in 2021 is not pocket change, and just like that – before Lenny felt as if he could offer proper appreciation – he was all set and on his way back to the car.

Getting there took a while, and he did not see the person who helped him, as she left. So he went home to check on his wife and then he sat down to marvel at the whole story.

"All of a sudden," he said, "this woman takes care of all my problems."

It bothered him that someone could do something so kind and never know just how grateful he felt. He kept reflecting on how he had been in a situation that would have been both difficult and potentially embarrassing if this stranger – out of the blue – had not stepped in.

The chances are he will never see her again. He tried to think of a way to do what he feels needs to be done, and his friend suggested giving us a call, at the paper.

All Lenny hopes is that the woman from the post office reads this, as his way of saying thanks, and he left us with a question that to him sums it all up.

“I tell you,” he said. “Does she have some wings, or what?”

Sean Kirst is a columnist with The Buffalo News. Email him at skirst@buffnews.com.

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