One morning in December 2004, a coworker’s email caught my attention: “Found: $20 bill on the floor in the lab at the end of the hall from the main building. See Alan W. to claim.’
Al’s email triggered recollection of an incident that occurred 21 years before, nearly to the day.
Before heading out for Christmas shopping that evening, I had cashed a $400 Christmas Club check, foolishly stuffing eight fifty dollar bills in my front pants pocket. On my way to Oakbrook Shopping Center, I stopped at a SportMart in a strip mall to look at hockey equipment for my son.
Returning to the car, I discovered the wad of bills was GONE. Panicked, I turned my pockets inside out, thinking how could I have been so careless. (Plus stronger self-assessments.) I turned on my car headlights and desperately scoured the snow and slush covering the parking area, in vain. I even recruited a few sympathetic shoppers to help. Nothing!
This was the Chicago area, where people in neighborhoods haunted by Al Capone’s ghost NEVER turn in CASH. With low expectations, I returned to SportMart and started telling my woeful tale to the store manager.
Hearing I’d lost cash, he interrupted, stating he needed to page the store, quickly. Someone had earlier reported finding money. The customer wouldn’t say how much or leave the money with the manager, but left his name. The manager was concerned he may’ve left.
I stopped breathing as the page broadcast. Minutes passed, and I’d about given up hope when a man and a boy approached the manager. The manager pointed them in my direction.
He was in his mid-thirties, with dark hair, winter jacket, plaid flannel shirt, and a son about 10 or 12. He smiled, “The manager tells me you lost some money. Can you describe the amount and denominations?”
I told him I’d lost $400, eight fifties. “That’s good enough for me,” he said, reached into his pocket and pulled out the roll of bills.
After a moment I started breathing again. I peeled off two bills and tried to hand them to him, but he shook his head, “You wouldn’t want to spoil Christmas for me and my son would you?” He gave me his name, but I was so frazzled it slipped my mind.
This was $400 in 1983 dollars, not chump change in our family’s finances. And that father and son did more than return a few bucks. For more than two decades, a seemingly trivial incident — the first snowfall or a Salvation Army bell ringer rekindles a warm recollection of a Christmas gift from a total stranger in a land where people don’t often give that way.
While I can’t remember his name, I’ll never forget his gift. That father also gave a gift to his son, probably a father himself today. If so, there’s a good chance the son is passing along his father’s legacy — a gift to us all.