Franckly speaking: A unique response to losing something valuable

By From page A4 | September 03, 2012

Recently, I wrote a column about finding a lost purse. It was a conventional story: item lost, item found, item returned. But because I wrote that story, I heard another one — simple on the surface — but pretty darn unconventional underneath. That’s the tale Ill tell today.

The date was Sunday, Jan. 17, and Peggy (not her real name) and her husband had returned to Davis early from an out-of-town trip. Sunday morning means church and newspapers to them, but they had stopped delivery on the papers, so Peggy went out to buy them.

An early riser, she arrived at Safeway at 5:30 a.m., made her purchase and returned home.

That’s when she discovered that her wallet was missing. She searched her car, and then drove quickly back to Safeway to talk to the clerk.

”No,” he said. “You didnt leave it here.”

Disappointed, Peggy drove home and cancelled her two credit cards. She thought about other things she had lost, including cash. When her husband suggested, ”Let’s swing through the Safeway parking lot on the way to church,” she readily agreed.

At 8 a.m. the lot was still empty, with no wallet in sight. But parked exactly where Peggy had parked was a worker’s truck. The signs on the truck told her the owner’s profession, but she doesnt want me to mention that.

The owner stood next to his truck, a short, Caucasian man, about 35 years old, in clean work clothes, obviously in town for a weekend repair job. Peggy walked up to him and said, ”Sir, did you happen to find a wallet?”

His eyes stopped, Peggy says. This was his chance to say no, but Peggy is quite sure he never entertained the thought. Instead, he reached into the cab of his truck and handed her the wallet.

Flooded with emotion, Peggy thanked him profusely in behavior she describes as that of a grateful old lady. The man, whom I’ll call Tony, seemed to want to explain himself. ”I have five children,” he said.

Peggy’s husband handed him a small tip.

As they drove off, Peggy opened her wallet. The credit cards were there, along with her other cards and papers. But the money, bills and coins totaling close to $100, was gone.

Peggy, now retired, spent most of her career working as an administrative assistant. Money is not a top priority to her, but a $100 loss is significant.

“When I realized he took the money, I had an emotion I can’t quite explain. It felt strong, like anger, but that wasnt it. Somehow, I wanted to make things right.”

”Turn around, please,” she said to her husband.

Tony was still there, working. Peggy walked right up to him. ”Tony,” she said, ”do you want to give me my money back?”

Those were the exact words she used, and they fascinate me. If I ever had the nerve to confront someone like this, those are not the words I would use. I might say, “Did you see some money?” or “I’m looking for my money.” But Peggy faced the facts directly, and, at the same time, took Tony’s point of view.

Did he want to give her money back?

For the second time, his eyes went still, as if he were making a choice. Then he opened his wallet, where her money was still folded separately, and passed it to her.

Thats when Peggy did the next thing I wouldnt have done. She handed the cash, all of it, back to Tony.

Listening to that part of the story, I was incredulous. ”Why?” I asked. ”Why did you give it back?”

Peggy’s eyes got a pensive, almost faraway look, as if she were seeing both the present and the future.

”To give him a second chance,” Peggy explained. ”He won’t have to put his head on the pillow tonight thinking that he’s a thief. That’s what I thought. I wanted to give him courage, so that next time he’ll choose the right thing.”

Peggy told me she also thought about Tony’s wife. What would she have said when he showed up with stolen cash? Would she have rejoiced or scolded? What would she think when he brought home cash that was freely given?

Then Peggy added, “I did it for my grandchildren, too.”

When I asked her to explain, she talked about her father, a hard-working man who used to come home from work and tell stories, ostensibly to her mother, about people making small ethical or unethical choices. Peggy and her siblings learned not to steal and not to lie without ever thinking that the stories were directed to them.

Peggy was hesitant about letting me retell her story. She did what she did for a very small number of people: one man, two grandchildren, and a wife and five children she could only imagine.

“This is an intimate thing,” Peggy said. ”When I share this story, like with you right now, it uses up a little bit of me.”

I know what she means. When we share a hope we have for a stranger, it feels risky, as if someone will mock us for dreaming. When we live out that hope in a way that others might call crazy (You gave the money to a thief!), it feels riskier still.
But something about Peggy’s story makes me happy inside.

Marion Franck is a columnist for the Davis Enterprise. She is a part-time resident of El Dorado County.

Marion Franck

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