Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A Lost Wallet

I have an ethics question for you: If you found a lost wallet, would you return it to its owner?  Imagine the wallet had no identification and contained $174 in cash and a $50 gift card.  Would you think such a careless owner deserved to be taught a lesson and therefore, feel justified in spending the money?  Or would you secure it in trust that the owner would eventually show up?  If you chose to hold on to it for safe keeping, how long would you wait?  A day? Two?  How about a week?

Our son recently experienced this moral dilemma, but from the other side; Wyatt lost his wallet.  Just before leaving for England, he had purchased a brown, leather wallet and against his parents instructions, put all his eggs in that basket.  His eggs amounted to $200 of grass-mowing, chore-doing, birthday-gifting and allowance-saving money.  Tenaciously, he kept the wallet secure throughout the UK, but became lax after returning home.

Our first Saturday afternoon back home, Greg took the kids to Publix for groceries.  Planning to buy a $1 bag of Skittles, Wyatt grabbed his wallet on the way out the door- because an eleven-year-old boy must bring all his money, obviously, for that "just in case" purchase.  He wore an old pair of shorts with a small pocket, but by stuffing the wallet in, he managed to make it fit.  So what if it hung out a little?  On the way to the store, his sister had a nose bleed- because nothing is easy when taking your kids anywhere- even to the grocery store two miles away.  Greg pulled into the nearest convenience store and sent Wyatt inside for napkins.  With everybody relatively clean and blood-free, they proceeded to Publix.  After walking up and down every single aisle in the store at least five times- because that's what kids do when they go to a grocery store- the party was ready to check out.  Wyatt reached for his wallet to buy his Skittles and discovered it was gone.  He, of course, told his parents all this... ONE WEEK LATER!

Greg and I were crushed for him.  How do you explain to your kids that the world is not an honest place?  I figured it was best to just rip the band-aid off and be blunt.

"The wallet is gone, Son.  If you had told your dad the minute you realized it was missing, we might have found it.  But losing it in one of two high-traffic areas, over a week ago, makes it impossible."

Call me a cynic, but I believed what I said.  The tears flowed... from Wyatt and me; Greg somehow managed to hold it together.  We gave Wyatt a stern speech on respecting money and explained that part of being responsible meant not just spending wisely, but keeping the money safe.  We said, "We told you to keep your money at home and only put five dollars in your wallet.  If you're not responsible with money, the world will take it from you- one way or another."

For Wyatt's sake, I called Publix and spoke with someone in customer service.  She kindly told me what I already knew: no wallet had been turned in.  Greg looked up the number to the convenience store, but we didn't know the new name.  My dad had built the store twenty-five years ago and called it BJ's for Bobbie and Johnny's, my parents' names.  It has changed hands a couple of times since so I had no idea what to look up in the phone book.  Feeling deflated after my cry, I used a trip to the store as an excuse to get out of the house for a little while.

The store was packed for a rainy afternoon.  Only one employee worked the rush so I waited in line to speak with her.  When I reached the counter, I was brief.

"Hi.  My son was in here last week and lost his wallet.  It was brown leather and had a lot of money in it, but no ID.  He just told us about losing it.  Has anyone turned one it?"

"I don't think so, but I'll check.  Do you want to leave your name and number?"

"I doubt it will do any good," I replied as I wrote down our information.  She rang up the next customer as I thanked her and walked back to my car.

Before I got home, a miracle happened.  The store clerk called and told Wyatt (who answered the phone) that she found his wallet a week ago and had put it in the safe and forgot about it.  She assumed the owner would claim it soon.  By the time I got home, Wyatt was jumping for joy.  Greg and I stood in shocked disbelief.  Honestly, I didn't know how to react.  Part of me was thrilled that an honest person was still out there, but another part of me was kind of pissed.   I mean, how was this going to teach Wyatt to take care of money?  Isn't that awful!  Wyatt was dancing a jig and instead of dancing with him, I wanted to make sure he understood how rare this was and how lucky he was.  Instead of celebrating this moral exemplary person who found his wallet and kept it safe, I chose to be dour.  Why was it hard to be happy that someone did the right thing?  I think it's because sometimes (Dare I say it?)-  being a parent sucks.   Sometimes you get so caught up in teaching a lesson that you miss the point of it.  Say your kid gets an A on a test without studying.  A parent can't say, "Good job! You must have listened and participated well in class." Oh no.  A parent must say, "You lucked out this time.  Classes get harder so you better study next time."  With the burden of the future ever looming, I forgot to celebrate the present- the gift of an honest person.

When I came to my senses, I called to thank her.  I told her what an amazing thing she did by keeping the wallet safe for my son.

"I knew it must be a kid's wallet because it had no identification in it.  I have a three-year-old and I know if it were his, I'd want someone to turn it in for him.  I put it in the safe and forgot about it after no one had come looking for it."

We kept talking, discussing ethics.  We both agreed how hard it was to find honest people these days.  Then we made a strange connection.  I told her that my father built the convenience store where she worked and her heart opened up to me.

"Johnny is your father?  I used to be in love with your brother!  I came in the store at least five times a day to see Chris smile.  I was only fifteen, but he was always so nice to me.  I hated what happened to him, but you know drugs are hard to kick.  I was an addict for six years, but have been clean for over three years since I found out I was pregnant.  I feel great, but I struggle with it everyday.  I think of Chris when I'm working here and wish he'd been able to get off drugs, too.  Thinking of him helps me stay straight."

I said, "Well, you're obviously a good person and respect yourself now.  You've done a very nice thing for Chris's nephew."  I admit I was a little choked up as I said it.

On our way to pick up the wallet, Wyatt asked, "Can I give the lady a reward for finding the wallet and keeping it safe."

"I think that's a great idea."

"Would twenty dollars be okay?"



  1. My husband lost his UGA graduation ring in cherokee co in 1990 (before anyone had internet access). 2 years after he lost it, it appeared in the mail. Someone took the trouble to contact UGA, and thru his initials, date of graduation and degree, tracked him down and returned it. We were amazed b/c it took great effort back in those days to track him down. Yes, there are honest people still around. Hopefully, your son will pay it forward one day and remember this lesson when he finds something. Great story. S. Turner


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