Pat Steig figures her late son, Tom, was simply trying to send her a message on the 13th anniversary of his death.
And he did that by sending her a letter.
Pat’s husband, Roger, went to the mailbox on Aug. 7, and to his surprise there was a letter addressed to Tom Foster, his stepson. And to top it off, it was addressed in Tom’s handwriting. Inside was an autographed football card from former Detroit Lions quarterback Erik Kramer.
Pat was away visiting her daughter, so Roger called her right away.
“He said, ‘Are you sitting down, Pat? You’ll never believe what we got from Tom today,’ ” Pat explained.
Pat admits it was quite strange to see Tom’s handwriting on the envelope. And even more remarkable that it arrived on the 13th anniversary of his death.
“I wasn’t really surprised, I guess, when Rog told me about the letter,” Pat said. “I feel like Tom will keep in touch with us forever.”
Tom loved to write. He wrote letters to many celebrities and athletes over the years as well as having several pen pals. He had a hobby of sending letters to athletes and celebrities asking them for their autograph. He got a good response and had accumulated quite a collection.
In many cases he would send a football trading card to an athlete along with a self-addressed, stamped envelope, asking them to sign the card and send it back to him. That’s what likely happened with the letter the Steigs received earlier this month.
Where has this letter been all this time? It’s difficult to determine. The Steigs have gone to the local post office, but they are unable to determine where the letter has been. The postmark is unreadable. The envelope had a 29 cent stamp affixed to it. The 29 cent stamp was in use from Feb. 3, 1991 until Jan. 1, 1995. Somewhere along the line, probably recently, an extra 15 cents was added to the postage, but by whom and where is unknown.
Kramer played for the Lions from 1991-1993. So Tom must have sent the letter to Kramer sometime between 1991 and 1995. Was Kramer holding o to the letter and sent it recently? Was the letter in some post office somewhere and just now surfaced? And how did it get forwarded to the Steigs’ address? Pat said Tom had moved at least twice since the address on the envelope, including once to Minot. She was astonished the letter found them, considering all the address changes.
Tom was born in 1969 to Pat and her first husband, R.D. Foster.
He was a very sick baby. After almost dying at the age of one month, he was diagnosed with galactosemia, which is a rare genetic disorder that affects an individual’s ability to metabolize sugar galactose properly.
Infants are now routinely screened for galactosemia, but when Tom was born that was not the case.
Some individuals with galactosemia experience long-term complications, such as speech difficulties, learning disabilities or neurological impairment. Pat isn’t sure if the condition had these effects on Tom. He had also had a few seizures over the years, but doctors could not determine the cause. On Aug. 7, 1996, Tom died at the age of 26, and the cause remains unknown.
Tom did have some intellectual disabilities, and looking back Pat thinks he may have had some characteristics of autism because he was very bright and enthusiastic about the things he loved but didn’t do well in social situations. He was a kind, gentle boy who loved his family. When his father died at the age of 31, Tom was just five years old. He was the oldest of Pat’s three children and big brother to his two sisters, Sue and Toni. He was active in Special Olympics and loved the Dallas Cowboys. He collected many things and had a passion for board games. His favorite player was Roger Staubach. His hero was Charlton Heston. Heston’s autographed photo is among Tom’s collection.
Over the years since Tom passed away, Pat has given away many of the items in Tom’s collections to others, especially if she knows of someone that the item would have special meaning for. For instance, she has shared some of his Dallas Cowboys items with other local Cowboys fans. Sharing Tom’s things with others have also been a small way to keep his memory alive.
“He taught us so much,” Pat said. “He taught us a lot about compassion. I think that’s common when you have someone in your family with disabilities. You learn a lot about acceptance of those who are different.”
It’s unlikely the Steigs will ever find out how the letter finally reached them 13 years to the day after Tom died. But Pat is pretty certain there was some “divine intervention.”
“Tom always had a thing about the number 13, and I guess he was a little superstitious about it,” Pat said. “I think that Tom just wanted us to remember him that day.”
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