Letter In A Wallet From Long Time Ago

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.

tattered old wallet

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—1936. The letter had been written over eighty years ago.

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, that the owner could be identified. 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 anyway 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 would ask them if they wanted her to connect me. I waited a few minutes and then she 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 30 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. They told me the old lady had passed away some years ago but they did have a phone number for where they thought the daughter might be living. I thanked them and phoned. The woman who answered explained that Hannah herself was now living in a nursing home.

nursing home

This whole thing was stupid, I thought to myself. Why was I making such a big deal over finding the owner of a wallet that had only three dollars and a letter that was almost 60 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 16 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 began to well up in her eyes, “I never did marry. I guess no one ever matched up to Michael…”

I thanked Hannah and said goodbye. 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 8th 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.

walkers in nursing home

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.”

“Mr. Goldstein,” 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!”

elderly couple

He walked slowly towards 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 76-year-old bride and a 79-year-old groom acting like two teenagers, you had to see this couple.

A perfect ending for a love affair that had lasted nearly 60 years.


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Pebbles For A Beautiful Bride

Many years ago in a small Italian town, a merchant had the misfortune of owing a large sum of money to the moneylender.

The moneylender, who was old and ugly, fancied the merchant’s beautiful daughter, so he proposed a bargain.

beautiful eyes of woman

He said he would forgo the merchant’s debt if he could marry the daughter.

Both the merchant and his daughter were horrified by the proposal.

The moneylender told them that he would put a black pebble and a white pebble into an empty bag.

The girl would then have to pick one pebble from the bag.

If she picked the black pebble, she would become the moneylender’s wife and her father’s debt would be forgiven.

If she picked the white pebble, she need not marry him and her father’s debt would still be forgiven.

But, if she refused to pick a pebble, her father would be thrown into jail.

They were standing on a pebble-strewn path in the merchant’s garden.

As they talked, the moneylender bent over to pick up two pebbles.

As he picked them up, the sharp-eyed girl noticed that he had picked up two black pebbles and put them into the bag.

He then asked the girl to pick her pebble from the bag.

The girl put her hand into the bag and drew out a pebble.

Without looking at it, she fumbled and let it fall onto the pebble-strewn path where it immediately became lost among all the other pebbles.

black and white pebbles

“Oh, how clumsy of me,” she said.

“But never mind, if you look into the bag for the one that is left, you will be able to tell which pebble I picked.”

Never Too Late: Eternal Springs

By Faith Fitzgerald, M.D.

This is a tale of presumption, which I tell so the young can hear what older doctors know: that the human spirit will always find a way to astonish. It is, for the most part, a true story.

crocus welcome the spring

He was a retired union leader, tough and blunt and charming. She was bright, small, agile. Both were golfers, and when he retired he built his wife her dream home in a golfing community near Sacramento. She was 80 and he was 84 when my story starts.

They’d been married over 60 years and were one person: they moved together with practiced grace, sharing dozens of small physical gestures of endearment. He called her “the Boss.” She called him “He,” as if there were no other men. I learned early in our 15 years together to see them both at once, no matter who had the appointment, for they answered for each other better than they did for themselves.

“How are you doing?” I’d ask her.

“She’s getting clumsy,” he’d say.

“Any problems with you?” I’d ask him.

“He’s going deaf,” she’d reply.

If I called their home, they’d both be on the speakerphone, each telling me their concerns about the other. He’d had a childhood osteomyelitis that left him with a limp; he also had asthma and had had a coronary bypass at age 76. She’d had some arthritis. But they were mostly robust, golfing every day.

Then her game got worse—and worse. Her left hand grew weak, her speech soft and slurred. She began to fall. Her animated face stilled, became masklike— except for her frightened eyes. Within a year of her first symptoms, she was in a wheelchair.

Her body stiffened and was racked by cramps, which he would try to massage away through endless painful nights. Swallowing became deranged, and she was repeatedly hospitalized for pneumonias.

Her neurologist was not sure but guessed she had an odd form of Parkinson disease. Multiple therapies gave no pause to her inexorable decline, and we finally resorted to botulinum toxin injections when she ripped her hip from its socket in one great spasmodic contraction of the muscles of her upper leg.

Each time she was admitted, her husband came in with her. He sat and slept in a big chair by her bed, never leaving her side. He fed her, bathed her, turned her, talked to her. The busy nurses loved him for his love of her and non-intrusive helpfulness to them.

When I told him how much the staff admired him, he was nonplussed: “Isn’t this what husbands are supposed to do?” he replied.

He modified their house for her: ramps, grab bars, stair lift, bed sling. And when even this was not enough, he reluctantly persuaded her to leave the home they had built together (“Just until you’re better,” he told her—and she, seeing his despair, pretended to believe him).

They moved into a single story house near their granddaughter, who checked on them each day. Home nurses visited, did what they could. Yet he still himself would lift her, bathe her, help her to the toilet.

Often now they fell together, each taking the other down. His arthritis worsened, and his heart began to fail. Over his prideful protest that he could take care of his own wife, the family hired a full-time live-in helper, who happened to be a strong Tongan woman.

She was deeply sympathetic, as sometimes is the gift of those themselves oppressed. She was the sole parent of a 6-year-old girl, and finding a job that allowed them to stay together had been hard. However, the old couple welcomed the active child, who brought joy to them both with her radiant vivacity and affection. Still, the old man continued to lift and turn his wife at night, though the live-in helper slept near them.

“The helper needed her sleep,” he said. He refused hospice when the nurse told him that he’d have to promise not to rush his wife to the hospital in an emergency, but call the hospice nurse instead.

Neither he nor his wife wanted to be in the ICU or to have CPR, but he’d too often seen her pulled back from the brink by intravenous antibiotics and pulmonary toilet in hospital to surrender these options yet.

The call finally came as I knew it must: She looked bad, he said. Should we get the paramedics? “If you want to,” I told him, “or you can wait for me; I’ll come now.”

“It’s hard to know what’s right,” he said.

“Yes, it is. Call your family. I’ll be right there.”

“It’s really bad this time,” he said, and hung up. I drove like a fury, but when I arrived, the ambulance, siren screaming, was pulling away. He and his granddaughter were in the driveway.

“She had trouble breathing,” he said, “so I called 911. I thought maybe they could just give her some oxygen here, but they said they couldn’t do that, that they had to take her to the nearest hospital.”

He and his granddaughter got into her car to follow the ambulance.

I had no privileges at the hospital to which she’d been taken, but the triage nurse knew me from a lecture I had given and let me into the emergency room to see my patient.

She’d had massive aspiration, was febrile, pale, and obtunded. The pulmonologist was an older man who—once he’d heard the story and spoken to the family—readily agreed to palliative care and antibiotics only.

She died 3 days later, her husband holding her hand. Although there were many family with him in that hospital room, at that moment he was truly alone: it was in his face as he stroked her hair.

I knew then that he would die soon, and that it would not be his heart but his being alone would kill him. Half of him—her—was already dead.

For 60 years the other half had been, above all other things, her husband, her protector. It was his role in life, and it lay dead with her. What was left?

A week after the funeral I phoned him.

“How are you?” I asked, and was unexpectedly startled to hear his voice reply—not hers, as had always been the case before.

“Okay,” he said.

“Just okay?” I asked.

“Well . . . my arthritis is better.” No surprise. He no longer lifted her.

“Good.”

“And the swelling in my ankles is gone.”

“Fine.”

“My breathing’s better, too.” His heart was being less stressed by exertion now.

“Doctor?” he said.

“Yes?”

“Do you think I could try that Viagra that everybody’s talking about?” I was stunned.

“Viagra?”

“Yeah. Will my heart take it?”

I thought perhaps he was confusing Viagra with some new anti-inflammatory.

“Viagra—you want it for . . . ?”

“What else? Performance! You know . . . it’s been a long time, what with the Boss so sick and all. Now a lady’s asked me out to dinner, and I don’t want to embarrass myself.”

“Do I know this lady?”

“Don’t think you ever met her. She came up to me at the Boss’s funeral. The Boss and I used to play golf with her and her husband a long time ago. She told me she’d decided way back then that if her David died—he keeled over last year—and the Boss died, that she’d come after me.”

He laughed. “Isn’t that something?”

“That’s something!” I said.

Then I just had to ask, “How old is this lady?”

“About my age,” he said.

I prescribed the Viagra. A week later, I called again. He answered.

“How are you doing?” I asked.

An unfamiliar female voice came loudly over the speakerphone:

“Great!” she said. “He’s doing great!”