BELLE HARBOR — When the floodwaters rushed into Rick Gold's home on the night of Hurricane Sandy, he told his wife Linda over the phone that he was terrified and "couldn't stand watching the water come in from all angles."
Still the mailman could not leave the place he had called home in Belle Harbor for 33 years and the neighbors who might need help during the storm.
"He never wanted to leave Rockaway," Linda, 63, said. “To some people, a house is just a house. To some people a house is part of your soul.”
Gold's wife and daughters last spoke to him at around 7 p.m. the night of the storm. A fire marshal found him in the basement the next day after a neighbor asked them to check up on him.
The weeks and months that followed involved a massive cleanup and rebuilding as the family mourned Rick, who would have been “heartbroken” to see the devastation in his community, his daughter Danielle, 27, said.
But they weren't alone in the struggle to rebuild their shattered lives — neighbors who had known the beloved postman over the years pitched in to help.
More than a dozen homes on a street on Gold's route in Belle Harbor burned the night of the storm, including the Harbor Light Pub, where he would often stop in for lunch.
And while only the basement of the Gold’s home flooded, in December 2012, the radiators in their home burst during repairs, flooding nearly every room in the house.
Linda spent the next eight months shuffling between her daughters' homes, who both live on Long Island.
What came next, she said, was an outpouring of kindness from people who knew her husband throughout the years.
Rick, who joined the postal service at 50 after a career working in the tech industry, was beloved in the community because of his friendly way of delivering the mail. He helped elderly neighbors by bringing them stamps, and visiting them on his day off. He carried dog treats in his pockets for the pets along his route.
Those whose homes had burned to the ground in one of the massive fires that raged in the peninsula, sent cards and checks to help the Golds with rebuilding. They sent Linda the same holiday photos they'd usually hand to Rick as he delivered their mail, with words of support written on the back.
One elderly woman sent a check along with a letter, telling the Golds that Rick would let her granddaughter push his mail cart for a few houses, then pay her a quarter for her work.
“The kids loved him,” Danielle said. “He’d feed all the cats, he’d feed all the dogs; he talked to the young ones, the old ones.”
Nearly every trip down to the beach this summer was filled with reminders of Rick, as people they knew — and some they didn't — shared hugs and shared stories.
"Everybody has a story about my dad," Danielle said.
The summer brought new life to the family, too. Rick loved his grandson Lucas, sharing photos of him along his route and taking him on trips to the aquarium, the zoo, baseball games and camping trips.
In July, the Golds' eldest daughter, Melanie, gave birth to a son, Benjamin Richard — just three days after what would have been Rick's 68th birthday.
Linda moved back for good in August after renovations were made to the house in Belle Harbor, even though she had originally thought of going somewhere else.
“I initially didn’t want to move back, but then I realized Rick died here trying to save it,” Linda said. “I couldn’t just leave it. I knew I had to put it back."