ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The post office delivered a mystery to Teresa Childs a couple of weeks ago. Twice.

During a three-day span, Childs received two postcards from Italy addressed to a man named James Jigliotti, who lived in her home more than a quarter-century ago.

One was dated March 9, 1982. The other bore a 1982 postmark from Vatican City. Both carried stamps purchased with lira, which aren't in circulation anymore.

Both were signed, "Love, Mother."

"This vacation will be over (soon)," the sender wrote on one. "May beat card home."

She was right. She beat it home by 26 years.

The mystery of the postcards lost in the mail since 1982 has captivated Childs. So far, she can't find James Jigliotti — a phone number she found for him on the Internet is disconnected — but she's betting someone can.

"It'd be fun to give them to (him). It'd be awesome," she said this week.

A search of Anchorage Daily News archives shows that Olga Jigliotti, the mother of James Jigliotti and the apparent author of the delayed messages, died March 22, 2007, at the age of 81 — less than two months after she and her husband, John Jigliotti, celebrated their 60th anniversary. John, the son of Italian immigrants, died this spring at age 82, a year and a day after his wife.

The couple came to Anchorage in 1963 and lived there for the rest of their lives.

Attempts to reach survivors and pallbearers listed in the Jigliottis' obituaries were unsuccessful.

The postcards were mailed from Rome.

"Dear James — Wanted to get this cancelled at the Sistene Chapel,"(cq) she wrote on the one carrying a Vatican City postmark. "This is a nice trip but is over too soon. Love, Mother."

The other features a photo of St. Peter's Square and is dated 3-9-82.

"Dear James," it says. "Here we are, running like mad. I think I didn't sleep 30 hrs first. Lots of English speaking here in Rome, but we've managed beautifully. ... Pretty mild weather this time of year. See Pope Saturday. Love, Mother. P.S. Went to Basilica today."

Childs wants to know more.

"You want to know the rest of the story," she said. "Was she traveling in a group? Was it the trip of a lifetime?"

Just as intriguing is the reason for the postcards' 26-year journey through time, which gives new meaning to the phrase "snail mail."

Al DeSarro, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service in Denver, said this doesn't happen often.

"It's extremely rare to find mail pieces that are several years old that turn up," he said. "They'll pop up once in a while around the country."

He theorizes the cards got lost or stuck in a sorting tray, a bag or maybe even on a plane somewhere between Rome and Anchorage.

"Usually, when the origin is the United States, we'll find it in back of a letter-carrier's work station or sorting station," DeSarro said.

When a stray piece of mail is found, he said, neither snow nor rain nor even 26 years keeps the mail from being delivered.

"Even if it's waylaid 40 or 50 years," DeSarro said, "we will make the attempt to deliver it."

Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service