Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Wallet


Credits: lonelyplanet

By Arnold Fine

As I walked home one freezing day, I stumbled on a wallet someone
had lost in the street. I picked it up and looked inside to find
some identification so I could call the owner. But the wallet
contained only three dollars and a crumpled letter that looked as if
it had been in there for years.
The envelope was worn and the only thing that was legible on it was
the return address. I started to open the letter, hoping to find
some clue. Then I saw the dateline - 1924. The letter had been
written almost sixty years earlier. It was written in a beautiful
feminine handwriting, on powder-blue stationery with a little flower
in the left- hand corner. It was a "Dear John" letter that told the
recipient, whose name appeared to be Michael, that the writer could
not see him any more because her mother forbade it. Even so, she
wrote that she would always love him. It was signed Hannah. It was a
beautiful letter, but there was no way, except for the name Michael,
to identify the owner. Maybe if I called information, the operator
could find a phone listing for the address on the
envelope. "Operator," I began, "this is an unusual request. I'm
trying to find the owner of a wallet that I found. Is there any way
you can tell me if there is a phone number for an address that was
on an envelope in the wallet?" She suggested I speak with her
supervisor, who hesitated for a moment, then said, "Well, there is a
phone listing at that address, but I can't give you the number." She
said as a courtesy, she would call that number, explain my story and
ask whoever answered if the person wanted her to connect me. I
waited a few minutes and then the supervisor was back on the
line. "I have a party who will speak with you." I asked the woman on
the other end of the line if she knew anyone by the name of Hannah.
She gasped. "Oh! We bought this house from a family who had a
daughter named Hannah. But that was thirty years ago!" "Would you
know where that family could be located now?" I asked. "I remember
that Hannah had to place her mother in a nursing home some years
ago," the woman said. "Maybe if you got in touch with them, they
might be able to track down the daughter." She gave me the name of
the nursing home, and I called the number. The woman on the phone
told me the old lady had passed away some years ago, but the nursing
home did have a phone number for where the daughter might be living.
I thanked the person at the nursing home and phoned the number she
gave me. The woman who answered explained that Hannah herself was
now living in a nursing home. 'This whole thing is stupid,' I
thought to myself. 'Why am I making such a big deal over finding the
owner of a wallet that has only three dollars and a letter that is
almost sixty years old?' Nevertheless, I called the nursing home in
which Hannah was supposed to be living, and the man who answered the
phone told me, "Yes, Hannah is staying with us." Even though it was
already 10 P.M., I asked if I could come by to see her. "Well," he
said hesitatingly, "if you want to take a chance, she might be in
the day room watching television." I thanked him and drove over to
the nursing home. The night nurse and a guard greeted me at the
door. We went up to the third floor of the large building. In the
day room, the nurse introduced me to Hannah. She was a sweet, silver-
haired old-timer with a warm smile and a twinkle in her eye. I told
her about finding the wallet and showed her the letter. The second
she saw the powder-blue envelope with that little flower on the
left, she took a deep breath and said, "Young man, this letter was
the last contact I ever had with Michael." She looked away for a
moment, deep in thought, and then said softly, "I loved him very
much. But I was only sixteen at the time and my mother felt I was
too young. Oh, he was so handsome. He looked like Sean Connery, the
actor. "Yes," she continued, "Michael Goldstein was a wonderful
person. If you should find him, tell him I think of him often. And,"
she hesitated for a moment, almost biting her lip, "tell him I still
love him. You know," she said, smiling as tears welled up in her
eyes, "I never did marry. I guess no one ever matched up to
Michael..." I thanked Hannah and said good-bye. I took the elevator
to the first floor and as I stood by the door, the guard there
asked, "Was the old lady able to help you?" I told him she had given
me a lead. "At least I have a last name. But I think I'll let it go
for a while. I spent almost the whole day trying to find the owner
of this wallet." I had taken out the wallet, which was a simple
brown leather case with red lacing on the side. When the guard saw
it, he said, "Hey, wait a minute! That's Mr. Goldstein's wallet. I'd
know it anywhere with that bright red lacing. He's always losing
that wallet. I must have found it in the halls at least three
times." "Who's Mr. Goldstein?" I asked, as my hand began to
shake. "He's one of the old-timers on the eighth floor. That's Mike
Goldstein's wallet for sure. He must have lost it on one of his
walks." I thanked the guard and quickly ran back to the nurse's
office. I told her what the guard had said. We went back to the
elevator and got on. I prayed that Mr. Goldstein would be up.
On the
eighth floor, the floor nurse said, "I think he's still in the day
room. He likes to read at night. He's a darling old man." We went to
the only room that had any lights on, and there was a man reading a
book. The nurse went over to him and asked if he had lost his
wallet. Mr. Goldstein looked up with surprise, put his hand in his
back pocket and said, "Oh, it is missing!" "This kind gentleman
found a wallet and we wondered if it could be yours." I handed Mr.
Goldstein the wallet, and the second he saw it, he smiled with
relief and said, "Yes, that's it! It must have dropped out of my
pocket this afternoon. I want to give you a reward." "No, thank
you," I said. "But I have to tell you something. I read the letter
in the hope of finding out who owned the wallet." The smile on his
face suddenly disappeared. "You read that letter?" "Not only did I
read it, I think I know where Hannah is." He suddenly grew
pale. "Hannah? You know where she is? How is she? Is she still as
pretty as she was? Please, please tell me," he begged. "She's
fine...just as pretty as when you knew her," I said softly. The old
man smiled with anticipation and asked, "Could you tell me where she
is? I want to call her tomorrow." He grabbed my hand and said, "You
know something, mister? I was so in love with that girl that when
that letter came, my life literally ended. I never married. I guess
I've always loved her." "Michael," I said, "come with me." We took
the elevator down to the third floor. The hallways were darkened and
only one or two little night lights lit our way to the day room,
where Hannah was sitting alone, watching the television. The nurse
walked over to her. "Hannah," she said softly, pointing to Michael,
who was waiting with me in the doorway. "Do you know this man?" She
adjusted her glasses, looked for a moment, but didn't say a word.
Michael said softly, almost in a whisper, "Hannah, it's Michael. Do
you remember me?" She gasped. "Michael! I don't believe it! Michael!
It's you! My Michael!" He walked slowly toward her, and they
embraced. The nurse and I left with tears streaming down our
faces. "See," I said. "See how the good Lord works! If it's meant to
be, it will be." About three weeks later, I got a call at my office
from the nursing home. "Can you break away on Sunday to attend a
wedding? Michael and Hannah are going to tie the knot!" It was a
beautiful wedding, with all the people at the nursing home dressed
up to join in the celebration. Hannah wore a light beige dress and
looked beautiful. Michael wore a dark blue suit and stood tall. They
made me their best man. The hospital gave them their own room, and
if you ever wanted to see a seventy-six-year-old bride and a seventy-
nine-year-old groom acting like two teenagers, you had to see this
couple. A perfect ending for a love affair that had lasted nearly
sixty years.


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