LARGO — When Evelyn Wilson mailed off some holiday packages a few weeks ago, she didn't think she had anything to worry about.
She'd made sure there was plenty of time for the presents to get to their destination. She even beat the rush.
But two days before Christmas, Wilson, 79, got a call from her son in Knox, Ind.
The package had arrived, he told his mother. The gifts Wilson had put inside — some Christmas cash for her two college-aged grandsons — had not.
"My son said, 'Hey, Mom, how come you sent me a red envelope with nothing in it?' "
Wilson's heart sank.
She and her husband, Bill, were already in Jacksonville, spending the holiday with their daughter. There was no way to send more money in time.
Their son, John, told them not to worry. He'd make sure his sons got the money, and his parents could repay him some other time.
But in the meantime, John Wilson also contacted his local post office, which sent a message to Largo Postmaster Pam West on Christmas Eve.
Could anything be done, the family wondered?
West got her team in Florida working.
"I really wanted to see a good outcome," she said Wednesday.
West sent a message to the precessing plants in Tampa and St. Petersburg. She asked them to check the area that handles items found loose in mail.
Staff members were told to look for two white gift envelopes with a special seal on the back: "Do Not Open until Christmas."
Still, neither West nor the Wilsons were particularly hopeful.
"We process millions of pieces of mail, and for us to find two $50 bills … it's like looking for a needle in a haystack," said West, a 22-year Postal Service employee.
Nothing turned up for a few days. On Monday, Wilson called West when she got back to town.
This time, West had good news.
A clerk in Tampa had found the money. The envelopes hadn't even been opened.
Officials say it's likely that Wilson's package, an oversized outer envelope that included the two gift envelopes and cards inside, got stuck and torn in an automated mail machine.
"All it takes is one piece that's bulky for that thing to jam," West said.
The post office is sending Wilson a $100 money order.
"I really appreciate everything they did — and only in a week," Wilson said. "We figured if somebody did find the money, they wouldn't know who it belonged to and they would keep it."
Wilson, a retired bookkeeper, said she just wanted to do something nice for her grandsons.
Tyler, 22, recently graduated from Purdue University with a liberal arts degree. Kyle, 21, is in college studying to be a pharmacist.
The brothers often call their grandparents just to talk, Wilson said.
"They can talk to us just like they talk to their friends," she said. "They're just so precious to us. We really enjoy them."
Wilson was lucky, West said. But the story is also a reminder for people not to send cash in the mail.
Lesson learned, said Wilson, who recently mailed out the replacement funds to her son.
This time, she sent a check, in a small envelope.
Kameel Stanley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8643.