A group of us was celebrating the achievement of a project this week when we came to the subject of wallets. One person had his wallet sitting on the restaurant table because it’s too big to fit in his pocket. When asked to flip it open, we saw paper & pen, credit cards, almost a miniature daytimer.

And so, the subject of wallets was explored.

Out came a well worn leather issue from one fellow’s back pocket. Neatly sectioned were a slew of video cards for Bandito, Allandale 99, Blockbuster, Video Station, a gas credit card, several well worn grocery cards...Sobeys, A&P, Zehrs. Then there were the department store points cards, Club Zed, Air Miles, Sears Club etc. A bank card and a credit card rounded out the spending possibilities.

Tucked into another pocket of the wallet were “best customer” cards, the buy 10-get 1 free cards for Second Cup, Coffee Time, Shoe City. It was an interesting trek through this wallet, with many expired cards, some vouchers, and gift certificates.

Not one single chunk of cash.

This gave me cause to muse about wallets and their changing purpose in our lives. Drivers licence, social insurance card, health card, birth certificate... the essentials of a wallet often give way to the monetary equivalent of “junk mail.” My own wallet often takes on the function (and look) of a file cabinet, with two months receipts, records of appointments, bills paid, cheques received. Jammed in the back are stubs from rolls of film I picked up three years ago, a poem written by a good friend a decade ago, a dry cleaning receipt for a coat I donated to Good Will last spring, my ski vouchers, kids pictures, and pertinent personal information on my kids height, weight, physical appearances etc... from when they were in grades 1 and 6!

MacLaren Art Centre card, Barrie Public Library Card, bank card, gold card (for the air miles so the young adult children can come home), CAA card, insurance emergency numbers... they’re all there. You know, if I had an emergency with my car, I don’t think I’d have the presence of mind to remember that there would be a card in my wallet with a number on it! I think if I was in a car accident, it wouldn’t occur to me that my insurance policy number is on a card in my wallet.

But not one single chunk of cash.

Around the table we can go, and I think our wallets would read somewhat like a photo album of our lives... treasures long past, interests we used to have, organizations we currently belong to.

All of this thinking about wallets takes me back to June, 1993. It was a stressful month... my own father had just passed away and we’d had a very meaningful life celebration and burial. A few days later, a dear friend for whom my family had cared for the last two decades, also died. I was worried about her room at a local nursing home, knowing how long the waiting lists are for these facilities, and I wanted to get it cleared out.

But I wanted to do it thoughtfully, giving special things to special people, and caring for Loeta’s life as we dealt with the physical entities of it. It was a sad, stressful time, potent with loss. I was still raw from my dad’s death, trying to pick up the pieces at work, deal with a Toronto funeral home where my elderly friend had made her passing arrangements, and then coming home to pack up her room.

It was night #3 of the packing job and my longtime friend, Linda, offered to meet me at the home to help with the last part of her room... her clothes closet. My deceased beloved Loeta was a proud spinster born in 1905 whose professional life had revolved around clothing retail in high end facilities and longtime established department stores. Her clothes were exquisite and as fashionable in 1993 as they had been 20 years earlier. She had a feel for fabric and an eye for striking design.

Linda and I met at the nursing home. We sat in the emptiness of the room and talked about Loeta. I’d met her in the 60’s when I rented a room from her in Toronto while I went to school. Our relationship blossomed and because she had no family of her own, she became an eternal member of my family.

Then we began to tackle the last of the packing job. I piled up half a dozen purses and began the clearing process, sorting their contents into piles... crumpled kleenex in one pile, credit cards to cancel in another, little leather change purses that I knew some people would love to receive, costume jewellery in a last pile. I became quite efficient at the dis-assembling and sorting procedure. I grabbed the last purse and opened it, quickly tossing aside the tissues, and opening the little leather wallet to go through this “photo album” of her life.

And there it was...

A drivers licence! “Linda,” I called, “look at this. A driver’s licence! She had a drivers licence! I don’t believe it. For years and years she begged me to take her for rides in the car. She loved to go on any drive, any drive at all. She’d comment about everything... the words on the signs, the shapes of roofs, the density of development, the colour of sky... everything.

“And all this time she had a driver’s licence.”

I was stunned. I mean, after all, I had known this elderly lady intimately for almost 30 years. How could I not know that at some point in her life she had a driver’s licence?

The secrets revealed by a wallet.

My friend, knowing and understanding my fatigue, came over and sat quietly beside me. All around sat little piles of the contents of all the purses, cards, coins, jewellery, cosmetics, keys (to God knows what), paid bills, photos. She reached out and took the last purse and the now empty wallet that had been inside it.

“I don’t think she had a driver’s licence, Donna. This was my purse.”

Thanks, Loeta! Thanks, Linda!

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