After walking the same streets in the same neighborhood for three full decades, Connie Ramondelli can’t make it more than a couple of hundred feet before she has to stop. She can’t just go by without stopping to talk with the people who hurry down driveways or up sidewalks to say hello, after all.
As she walked Tuesday along her beloved route 55, better known to her as the Wellesley neighborhood that’s become just as much a home to her as anywhere in the world, the letter carrier of 30 years ran into at least a dozen former customers whom she considers family.
“Once I got on it, I stayed on it,” Ramondelli, 60, said of the route along Wellesley Avenue side streets that she first walked as a substitute mail carrier in 1986. “I found my home and my people.”
There’s Dora Carter, who by the end sat atop Ramondelli’s not-so-secret rankings of her customers.
“Not that I rate my customers, but she’s my number one heart and soul,” Ramondelli said, adding later, “I had my top 10 but people started moving, but Dora now is the matriarch of the neighborhood so that’s O.K.”
There’s Kayla Gigliotti, who at just 5 years old is taking swimming lessons that she’s bound to put to good use at Ramondelli’s pool, where for years she’s welcomed neighborhood kids for parties and cookouts.
“The parents trusted me. I took the kids home with me,” she said, “It was just a great tie with the community. It wasn’t just throwing the mail.”
Gigliotti, by the way, was quick to point out that her stuffed dog, Lala, bears more than just a passing resemblance to Maizie, one of Ramondelli’s dogs.
Ramondelli decided to get her two dogs after dog sitting for a pair of customers who’ve since moved from the neighborhood. Linda Stark, another customer, had puppies around the house when Ramondelli did. The letter carrier—who by now might as well be one of the neighbors—likes to say that their dogs grew up together.
Nearly every time she’d encounter someone along the way she’d tell them, “It’s Connie,” just in case they didn’t recognize her out of her uniform. Of course they knew it was Connie, though.
Thirty years ago the names of residents on Cottonwood, Twitchell, Clifford and the rest of her route read like an Italian phone book. It’s not nearly as predominantly Italian as it once was, but there are still plenty of them.
Ramondelli, whose parents were born in Italy, can rattle off the Italian names and spell them with ease. It’s the Irish names—like that of Jimmy McDonald, her close friend and the letter carrier who is trying to replace her—which she has to spell out on her hand.
“This was predominantly a little Italian neighborhood,” said Ramondelli. “Once they got that connection they kind of adopted me a little bit. I kind of tied everyone together.”
Lucio Arcuri and his family would send Ramondelli’s mother gifts and call her on the phone to speak Italian. Ramondelli would regularly attend Saturday Mass at nearby St. Paul Church, where she became a de facto member along with her Wellesley family despite having a church of her own in her hometown of Millis.
“That’s why I never left,” she said. The connection that started with her Italian heritage, but grew much as the kids in the neighborhood did, was simply too strong for her to be able to leave until she felt it was finally time on May 31.
“I don’t think we all encounter too many people like that in our lives,” said Barbara McMahon, who takes pride in being Ramondelli’s fourth favorite customer and—they joked—her favorite stalker.
“I would, like, sneak up on her in different cars,” McMahon recalled. “I would borrow other people’s cars. It just sort of became a little bit of a joke…so she told me I was her favorite stalker.”
During her walk Tuesday, Ramondelli saw a car drive and made a point to go visit its owner, Christina McCormick on Southgate Road—not to be confused with the McCormacks around the corner—before calling it a day.
McCormick, who missed the 150-person retirement party the neighbors threw, told Ramondelli about a concert she’d attended in Mansfield where she was carded for a beer. The bartender, noting McCormick’s Southgate Road address, knew—and loved—Ramondelli from her own time as a letter carrier in Wellesley.
“She’s the most wonderful person in the world,” McCormick said without hesitation.
Back in the late ‘80s, Ramondelli planned to carry the mail for a few years, save some money and go on to get a master’s degree to put her undergraduate sociology degree to use. Instead, she stuck around and put it to use along her 210-home route.
She’d check on the elderly residents that lived alone, stopping in to see if they needed anything. She’d follow Dottie Barbieri home from the grocery store and help carry her bags into the house. Ramondelli kept a funeral program for Barbieri’s late husband in the visor of her mail truck.
Charlene Geary was walking her dog as Ramondelli stood on Barbieri’s porch Tuesday and hurried over to catch up. Geary and Barbieri had never met, so Ramondelli introduced them.
“Connie’s job was all about the people on her route,” Geary said later, after she had time to collect her thoughts. What she eventually did say came with a crucial caveat: there’s no way to fully tell Ramondelli’s story.
That she happened to be flawless in her delivery of the mail was a bonus, Geary said.
“You really have to live it to really understand how amazing Connie is to everyone,” she said. “Connie is caring, loving, compassionate and she simply loves everyone. It’s really beyond words to capture what Connie added to our neighborhood.”
Each time someone would ask, Ramondelli would say that her retirement—still only a month old—has been like a vacation. That vacation, she said, will always include trips to the streets of Route 55. All that will be missing is the mail.