One sunny afternoon last week I was relaxing at one of the many beautiful areas along Lake Coeur d’Alene ... reading the Press and enjoying the combined symphony of the gulls, splashing surf from the passing boats and the muffled sounds of children playing down the path. I was reading Bill Buley’s story about Jeanne’ Wolcott and the honest person that returned her lost wallet. I am also a retired senior as she, living on a limited income so I could feel her panic and heart crushing dread when she realized she had lost her wallet. I also could relate to her joy of receiving the returned wallet completely intact with her personal information, $230 rent money and even the Super 1 breakfast drink coupon. I’ll bet that was the best tasting morning drink she has enjoyed in a long time.
As the sounds of the lake continued the enchanting opus, I sat there and daydreamed of a sad day many years ago when I, as well ... lost my wallet. It contained every ounce of liquidity I owned and all of my personal information. I was a struggling student in Modesto, Calif., and the loss was soul breaking. I was volunteering at the local rescue mission serving dinner two nights a week to the people living on the streets and alleys of our community. I wish I could say I was a benevolent young person but the truth was I started out doing the volunteer work to keep my then girlfriend from thinking I was just a “narrowly focused college student.” However that did change over the months and the compassion I inherited from my Mother, opened my eyes and warmed my perspective of our life-broken fellow humans. I begin to feel a sense of honor as I served these proud survivors of the street.
At the end of one evening I performed my humbling chores of washing dishes and dumping the trash cans into the dumpster at the rear of the building. When all the tasks were completed I relaxed with my fellow student volunteers in the kitchen and shared some well-deserved coffee and camaraderie. After our usual communal banter of solving the world’s problems and experiences of college academia, the conversation ended with the realities of paying rent, buying groceries and keeping our wheels operational. At that point and remembering that my rent was due I reached for my wallet. My heart skipped a beat ... no wallet! Not in the pockets of my 501 jeans, not in any of my jacket compartments and not anywhere in the kitchen.
I spent the next hour or so searching every nook and cranny of the building and another miserable period digging through the dumpster. With the exception of a dim street light that was shrouded with the mist of the cold night, I was virtually in the dark. I will never forget the face of an old weather worn veteran that peered over the top of the dumpster and told me that the best treasurers of discarded cuisine could be discovered on Fridays and Saturdays.
I drove home that night with a pain in my chest while I prepared for the predictable reprimand. The lecture would be to some extent well-earned. I was taking a full boat of over 20 units in school, working two part time jobs and volunteering a couple nights a week. Most of the time, I didn’t know if I was coming or going. With no one to blame for my overstuffed bag of responsibilities but yours truly, I bravely walked through my apartment door.
Sitting there with a big smile on her beautiful face was my roommate. She was on the telephone ... in those days we all owned clunky land lines that seemed permanently secured to a wall with a plastic umbilical cord. When she finished her chat she gave me a big hug and declared that her opinion of people had greatly improved. She had just received a call from someone that had found my wallet in the alley behind the mission and wanted to return it. I was thankful on so many levels that I vocally cheered for joy.
We arrived at the mission around midnight and there as promised was the hero who found my wallet. He appeared to be old beyond his years and was dressed in several layers of stained counterpane clothing. Upon seeing us he cracked a cheek to cheek decaying smile and walked up to my old VW Bug. He called me by name and handed me the wallet ... fully intact with our rent money and all. I offered him a reward but he refused, saying that I always treated him with respect on the food line and he as well appreciated the occasional extra helpings. As we looked into each other’s eyes I began to feel a sense of shame in my heart. I realized this wonderful old gentleman who knew me like an old friend and appreciated the reality that all the money we had in the world was in that wallet, knew my name and I never took the time to learn his! I humbly asked him his name and then introduced him to my lady. After a brief chat, we all piled into the Bug and went to an all-night dinner to continue our reunion.
His name was Charles Perry, Charlie to his friends. Charlie was one of the too many Americans that through life’s trials and tribulations end up on the streets. Charlie’s keen sense of survival taught him how to survive on the boulevards and his innate integrity as an old military veteran kept him human. We talked well into the morning and parted as friends with the brisk sunrise on our faces as the breakfast customers rolled up to the dinner.
Over the next few months I saw Charlie quite regularly and I always made it a mission to make sure he received extra helpings. Because of Charlie I learned the names of many of the people that attended the mission kitchen and even had the honor of learning some of their stories. Many of their narratives could be top selling novels. As time passed from the upper globe of the hour glass and my life continued as usual in too many directions, I lost contact with Charlie. I was told by some of his compatriots that he moved to southern California for the warmth. I did receive a written note from him via one of his companions, it simply said: “Julius, always stay you.”
To this day I still have that note and I keep it in that old wallet. Be well.
Julius Pekar is a Post Falls resident.