We’ve all had those moments.

You park the car, toss the keys on the seat and lock the door.

You pay for dinner with a credit card and leave the card in the folder.

You grab the peanut butter from the pantry, slap some on a piece of bread and stick the jar back in the … refrigerator.

Sometimes we just space out. Human nature.

But pity the poor soul who pulls one of those stunts with $100 worth of gift cards purchased by a spouse.

Ouch.

Charles Minick did just that at Christmastime, and he’s still trying to atone.

His wife, Susan, gave him several greeting cards to mail and one card to hand-deliver to his stepsister. When Minick arrived at the Ellet post office, he not only tossed the greeting cards in the mail but threw in the unaddressed envelope as well.

That one had his stepsister’s name on the outside and contained a $50 gift card to the Flower Factory and another to Gabriel Brothers.

Minick figured it wouldn’t be more than a minor inconvenience. He’d just return the next morning and someone would surely fish it out for him. Wrong.

When he came back, he was told the mail had already been sent to Cleveland for sorting. So he called Cleveland. When he was told it would take at least several days to retrieve it, he reimbursed his wife.

After repeated calls to Cleveland over many weeks, Minick was still out of luck. So in early March he contacted his favorite columnist, bemoaning what he saw as the demise of customer service.

“As a child, I heard that undeliverable mail was never disposed of and eventually ended up at the ‘dead letter office’ … for further investigation,” he wrote. “Now I’m told my faith in the USPS is naive and unfounded.”

Well, not so fast. As of this writing, Minick is halfway home.

A couple of days after I contacted a U.S. Postal Service official in Cleveland, Minick got a call saying his envelope and one of the gift certificates had been found and were being mailed back to him.

We’re not sure what happened to the other card. In the best-case scenario it was forwarded to the Mail Recovery Center in Atlanta and eventually will be returned.

Here’s the way these things are supposed to work, according to regional USPS spokesman David Van Allen.

Mail that’s undeliverable and has no return address is considered dead and is sent to Atlanta, where employees open and examine the contents. If the lost items are worth more than $25 and the owner can’t be immediately identified, they are held for three months. All envelopes containing cash and gift cards with some identifying information are held for six months.

The MRC won’t search for anything under $25 or for prescription drugs, checks, money orders, consumable items or cell phones.

Now, given the volume of stuff that is dropped into mailboxes each day, it’s impressive that at least some of the material classified as “Loose in Mail” is recovered. Yet in two recent local cases — three if you count Minick’s partial victory — the system worked.

Jane Greenland, customer relations coordinator for the Akron post office, forwarded the names of the satisfied customers, both of whom confirmed her claim.

Akron resident Shiva Kumar Madishetty mailed a package last fall that contained a pair of North Face shoes, a gift to her best friend. Although a label on the package carried both the friend’s address and the return address, somewhere along the line the label was torn off.

It happens. Mail shoots through machines on high-speed conveyor belts, then slides down chutes into a pile. A label can be scraped off when it rubs against other boxes or the equipment itself.

A month after mailing her package, Madishetty realized her friend hadn’t received it. She contacted the Akron office, which put her in touch with the Atlanta center. Although the recovery took nearly six months, Madishetty was thrilled when her problem was resolved.

In another case, a sorting machine gobbled up an envelope —that happens, too — that had been mailed by Melinda Clutter of Medina.

Clutter sent a Christmas card, a gift card and a check to both of her young godchildren. Two days before Christmas, she heard that one of the girls had gotten her present but the other received an empty envelope.

As Clutter was heading out the door to send another gift card via FedEx overnight, she checked her mail and discovered the contents of her original envelope had been returned to her. The Akron office was able to identify her because the check with her name and address had survived its encounter with the sorting machine.

Clutter was so happy that she wrote a long letter of praise to Greenland calling her a “special Christmas angel.”

Sometimes the post office screws up. Sometimes the customer screws up. But unlike some screw-ups, these aren’t necessarily fatal.

Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or bdyer@thebeaconjournal.com.