COEUR d'ALENE - Don and Jeanne Morris did everything they were supposed to do before leaving Coeur d'Alene last fall to spend the cold winter months in sunny Southern California.
It's something they've done every year for 20 years, so they know the drill. They make the to-do lists and get everything done, including filing a temporary change of address request with the post office, before heading out of town.
Their North Idaho mail has always been forwarded south to them without a hitch.
Until this year.
"If you want to see what five months of mail looks like, here," Don said, pointing to a United States Postal Service mail bin brimming with mail items addressed to the couple.
The couple took the proper steps to request a change of address last fall, asking that the mail usually delivered to their post office box be sent to their California address from Oct. 24 until March 26.
Jeanne held out a letter from the postal service dated Oct. 20, confirming that their mail would be forwarded. They received a second letter, sent as a security measure, notifying them that a temporary address change was being made.
"A few items came through each month," Jeanne said.
But it was nowhere near the amount of mail the couple usually receives.
The Christmas cards and letters never arrived. Don didn't receive birthday cards that were sent to him.
Calls to the post office from California didn't change things.
"They said, 'Well we just don't forward letters that say do not forward," Jeanne said. "I said, 'What about the Christmas cards? My bills and checks don't say do not forward."
The couple returned to Coeur d'Alene Sunday and went to the post office Monday and asked about their mail.
The clerk came back to the counter lugging the bin. He commented, said Jeanne, that the couple must have been out of town for a long time.
Don and Jeanne showed the clerk their confirmation letters.
"He said this was unacceptable," Jeanne said.
They didn't receive their bank statements, their credit card statements, their water bill from the city, and checks they rely on for food shopping and other daily expenses while in California.
Most of the checks have expiration dates that have come and gone, so Don and Jeanne have to ask the issuers to replace them.
"We needed that money to live on," Jeanne said.
When the couple's property tax bill didn't show up, they had their son go to the county building and get a copy which he mailed to them.
"The tax bill, it's laying right in there," Don said of the mail pile.
Now the couple, married nearly 65 years, is facing late charges on many of their bills.
They've lived in Coeur d'Alene since 1966, and built and operated several of the city's retirement and assisted living facilities including Lacrosse and Bestland.
"People know us around town. They know we pay our bills," Jeanne said.
Postal service spokesman Ernie Swanson said the agency's system for changing addresses like this usually performs well.
Swanson checked in with Ralph Parsons, the acting postmaster in Coeur d'Alene.
"There's no real explanation other than we made a mistake and it's very unfortunate," Swanson said, after speaking with Parsons.
Swanson said Parsons planned to call Don and Jeanne, and that he would apologize.
"It's unfortunate, but we do make mistakes from time to time," Swanson said.