The Wallet By Arnold Fine

Posted on Sunday, October 21st, 2012 at 10:54 am by Diamond Jim


While walking one day, I stumbled across a wallet. I picked it up and looked inside, trying to find some identification so I could track the owner, but it held only three dollars and a crumbled letter that looked as though it had been in there for years. The envelope was worn, and the return address was the only thing legible. I opened the letter, hoping to find some clue, and I saw the date—1924.

It was written in a beautiful feminine handwriting, on powder blue stationary with a little flower in the left-hand corner. It was a “Dear John” letter, telling “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.”

Wanting to identify the owner, I decided to call information, hoping to find a phone number to match the address. The operator had me speak with her supervisor, who said she could not give me the number but would call it herself, and see if the person who answered would agree to speak with me. Minutes later, I was asking the woman on the other end of the line if she knew anyone named Hannah. She said she’d bought her 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. She remembered that Hannah had placed her mother in a nursing home, and gave me the name of the home. The woman who answered the phone there told me the old woman had passed away, but the did have a number for where the daughter might be living. I thanked her and dialed 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 sixty-year-old letter?” Nevertheless, I called the nursing home where Hannah was supposed to be living. The man who answered verified that she was there. Even though it was getting late, I drove over. The night nurse and a guard greeted me at the door and took me to the third floor of the large building. In the day room, the nurse introduced me to Hannah, a sweet, silver-haired lady 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 the little flower, she took a deep breath and said, “Young man, this letter was the last contact I ever had with Michael.” She looked away, deep in thought, and then said, “I loved him very much. But I was only sixteen at the time and my mother felt I was too young. Michael Goldstein was a wonderful person. If you should find, him, tell him I think of him often. In fact, 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 matched up to Michael.”

I thanked Hannah and said goodbye. The guard at the front door asked, “Was she 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 now. I’ve spent all day trying to find the owner of this wallet.” I had taken out the wallet, a simple brown leather case with red lacing. When the guard saw it, he said, “Hey, wait a minute! That’s Mr. Goldstein’s wallet! I’d know it anywhere. He’s always losing it on his walks. I’ve found it in the halls many times.” My hands were shaking as I asked who Mr. Goldstein was and where he lived. I thanked the guard and ran back to the nurses station. We got on the elevator, headed for the eighth floor, and I was praying that Mr. Goldstein would still be awake.

The nurse took me to the day room, where a gentleman was reading. The nurse went over to him and asked if he has lost his wallet. She said, “This man found a wallet and we thought it might be yours.” I handed him the wallet, and when he saw it, he smiled with relief. “I have something to tell you,” I said. “I read the letter inside, hoping to find the owner. I think I know where Hannah is.” He suddenly grew pale. “Hannah? You know where she is? Is she still as pretty as she was? Please, please tell me! 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. Nightlights lit our way down the hall to the day room, where Hannah was sitting alone, watching the television. The nurse walked over to her. “Hannah, do you know this man?,” she asked softly, as she pointed to Michael, who was standing by me in the doorway. Hannah adjusted her glasses, looked for a moment, but said nothing. “Hannah,” said Michael, “do you remember me?” She gasped. “Michael! My Michael! Is it really you?”

He walked slowly toward her, and they embraced. The nurse and I left with tears streaming down our faces. “See how the good Lord works,” I said. “If it’s meant to be, it will be.” Three weeks later I got a call from the nursing home. “Can you break away on Sunday to attend a wedding? Michael and Hannah are tying the knot!”

It was a beautiful wedding. Hannah looked beautiful in her dress, and Michael stood tall and proud. They made me their best man. It was a perfect ending for a love affair that had lasted sixty years.

— Arnold Fine, from Reader’s Digest, September 1985