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The Letter in the Wallet

It was a freezing day, a few years ago, when I stumbled upon a wallet in the street. There was no identification inside. Just three dollars, and a crumpled letter that looked as if it had been carried around for years.

The only thing legible on the torn envelope was the return address. I opened the letter and saw that it had been written in 1924 — almost 60 years ago. I read it carefully, hoping to find some clue to the identity of the wallet's owner.

It was a "Dear John" letter. The writer, in a delicate script, told the recipient, whose name was Michael, that her mother forbade her to see him again. Nevertheless, she would always love him. It was signed Hannah.

It was a beautiful letter. But there was no way, beyond the name Michael, to identify the owner. Perhaps if I called information the operator could find the phone number for the address shown on the envelope.

"Operator, this is an unusual request. I'm trying to find the owner of a wallet I found. Is there any way you could tell me the phone number for an address that was on a letter in the wallet?" The operator gave me her supervisor, who said there was a phone listed at the address, but that she could not give me the number. However, she would call and explain the situation. Then, if the party wanted to talk, she would connect me. I waited a minute and she came back on the line. "I have a woman who will speak with you."

I asked the woman if she knew a Hannah.

"Oh, of course! We bought this house from Hannah's family thirty years ago."

"Would you know where they could be located now?" I asked.

"Hannah had to place her mother in a nursing home years ago. Maybe the home could help you track down the daughter."

The woman gave me the name of the nursing home. I called and found out that Hannah's mother had died. The woman I spoke with gave me an address where she thought Hannah could be reached.I phoned. The woman who answered explained that Hannah herself was now living in a nursing home. She gave me the number. I called and was told, "Yes, Hannah is with us." I asked if I could stop by to see her. It was almost 10 p.m. The director said Hannah might be asleep. "But if you want to take a chance, maybe she's in the day room watching television." The director and a guard greeted me at the door of the nursing home. We went up to the third floor and saw the nurse, who told us that Hannah was indeed watching TV.

We entered the day room. Hannah was a sweet, silver-haired old-timer with a warm smile and friendly eyes. I told her about finding the wallet and showed her the letter. The second she saw it, she took a deep breath. "Young man," she said, "this letter was the last contact I had with Michael." She looked away for a moment, then said pensively, "I loved him very much. But I was only sixteen and my mother felt I was too young. He was so handsome. You know, like Sean Connery, the actor."

We both laughed. The director then left us alone. "Yes, Michael Goldstein was his name. If you find him, tell him I still think of him often. I never did marry," she said, smiling through tears that welled up in her eyes. "I guess no one ever matched up to Michael..."

I thanked Hannah, said good-bye and took the elevator to the first floor. As I stood at the door, the guard 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 probably won't pursue it further for a while." I explained that I had spent almost the whole day trying to find the wallet's owner.While we talked, I pulled out the brown-leather case with its red-lanyard lacing and showed it to the guard. He looked at it closely and said, "Hey, I'd know that anywhere. That's Mr. Goldstein's. He's always losing it. I found it in the hall at least three times."

"Who's Mr. Goldstein?" I asked. "He's one of the old-timers on the eighth floor. That's Mike

Goldstein's wallet, for sure. He goes out for a walk quite often."

I thanked the guard and ran back to the director's office to tell him what the guard had said. He accompanied me to the eighth floor. I prayed that Mr. Goldstein would be up.

"I think he's still in the day room," the nurse said. "He likes to read at night...a darling old man."

We went to the only room that had lights on, and there was a man reading a book. The director asked him if he had lost his wallet. Michael Goldstein looked up, felt his back pocket and then said, "Goodness, it is missing."

"This kind gentleman found a wallet. Could it be yours?"

The second he saw it, he smiled with relief. "Yes," he said, "that's it. Must have dropped it this afternoon. I want to give you a reward."

"Oh, 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 disappeared. "You read that letter?"

"Not only did I read it, I think I know where Hannah is."

He grew pale. "Hannah? You know where she is? How is she? Is she still as pretty as she was?" I hesitated.

"Please tell me!" Michael urged.

"She's fine, and just as pretty as when you knew her."

"Could you tell me where she is? I want to call her tomorrow."

He grabbed my hand and said, "You know something? When that letter came, my life ended. I never married. I guess I've always loved her."

"Michael," I said. "Come with me." The three of us took the elevator to the third floor. We walked toward the day room where Hannah was sitting, still watching TV. The director went over to her.

"Hannah," he said softly. "Do you know this man?" Michael and I stood waiting in the doorway.

She adjusted her glasses, looked for a moment, but didn't say a word.

"Hannah, it's Michael. Michael Goldstein. Do you remember?"

"Michael? Michael? It's you!"

He walked slowly to her side. She stood and they embraced. Then the two of them sat on a couch, held hands and started to talk. The director and I walked out, both of us crying.

"See how the good Lord works," I said philosophically. "If it's meant to be. It will be." Three weeks later, I got a call from the director who asked, "Can you break away on Sunday to attend a wedding?" He didn't wait for an answer. "Yup, Michael and Hannah are going to tie the knot!"

It was a lovely wedding, with all the people at the nursing home joining in the celebration. Hannah wore a beige dress and looked beautiful. Michael wore a dark blue suit and stood tall. The home gave them their own room, and if you ever wanted to see a 76-year-old bride and a 78-year old groom acting like two teen-agers, you had to see this couple.

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

(This true account was published in Readers Digest a few years ago.

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