It is September 1995, and a small baby boy born without a diaphragm is in a Birmingham hospital fighting for his life.
In the mailroom at the Anniston post office, Randall Wilkinson is offering up prayers for his grandson with just about every breath. Then, on the other side of the mailroom …
“A big black man was singing. His name was Roy Ball and he was singing ‘He’s got the little bitty baby in his hands, He’s got the little bitty baby in his hands.’ He sang that one verse over and over.
“That gave me peace right there. God does that for us when we’re struggling. I told myself ‘Gabe’s going to get through this.’
“He was born on Sept. 10, came home on Christmas Day. That’s the best Christmas present I’ve ever had.”
Gabe is now 18 and heading for his senior year at a Dalton, Ga., high school. The telling of the story is still emotional. But there’s a nice smile on Wilkinson’s face when he tells me Gabe’s brother Kaine is on the baseball team at Chattahoochie Community College in Phenix City, Ala.
Randall Wilkinson, after 32 years, five months, and four days, parked his white, blocky delivery truck Friday for the last time. He is now retired from the U. S. Postal Service.
“I could work on, but I don’t want to work until I can’t do anything. I’m just ready to go and I’ve got plenty to do. I love to play golf, I’ve been a member of Harvest Church of God (Golden Springs) all my life, and I work in the men’s ministry there.
“I just want to make a difference. I want to help people. We’re here for a reason and I want to see our church grow. People today don’t have the respect and reverence for God and church they once did. That bothers me.
“I’m going to have more time to be a grandfather now. I’ve got two grandkids and I want to be more involved in their lives. We’ll be spending a lot of money on gas going to Phenix City to see Kaine play baseball.”
'Course it’s not like Randall Wilkinson doesn’t know how to drive.
In his 32 years with the postal service, Wilkinson has spent 23 years on a route that includes the street on which I live. An estimate is he’s driven over 850,000 miles in those years. And the two of us have spent some time at my mailbox just talking about whatever came to mind. He does have a pang or two about leaving …
“I’m not going to miss the job, but I’m going to miss the people. I’ve been on this route 23 years. I’ve seen people die, I’ve seen kids grow up and have kids. I’ve seen new babies in the house. People are always stopping me on the street and saying ‘Do you remember me?’
“There are a lot of older people on my route who are used to seeing me and change is sometimes hard for older people. That’s what I’ve enjoyed more than anything, the people. The job itself is just repetition.”
The beginning of the 32-plus years came the day after he quit as co-manager of the old Food World store in Lenlock.
“I was making a living there, but I didn’t like it and I had interviewed at the post office. When the post office called, I turned in my notice. Thing is if you quit you were out the door right then, but they asked me to work the two-week notice.
“When I left Food World, I went to work the next morning at the post office.
“When I interviewed six people tested for two jobs. Two of us got hired."
There was a bit of a detour even before Food World.
“I’m stupid, but not stupid. I was going to Jacksonville State, didn’t like it, flunked out. I got drafted and ended up in Vietnam as a result of flunking out of school.
“But I had a praying mother and The Lord took care of me. I ended up as a personnel specialist assigned to headquarters.”
Which meant he came home in one piece to wife Sharion, a hookup that has lasted 44 years, two daughters, two grandsons, and what should be a very nice retirement. And more time with Sharion on their back porch, who says …
“It is a time of enjoying God’s beauty, talking of family and church, a chance to relax at the end of the day.”
Sounds good, right?
Well, I called Wilkinson Saturday morning...
“Guess what. You’re not going to believe this. I’m at Lowe’s.”
I didn’t ask, but my guess is Sharion didn’t waste much time in coming up with a few things to maybe improve on God’s beauty.
Thanks for the visit, Mr. Wilkinson.
George Smith can be reached at 256-239-5286 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org