Commentary

Shaffer: Socks, gloves await homeless man who returned lost wallet

jshaffer@newsobserver.comDecember 16, 2012 

— As a homeless man, John Carter doesn’t own much besides a sleeping bag, a cowboy hat and two left gloves that he found in a trash bin.

By all accounts, he likes it that way. Possessions weigh him down. He feels confined, not comforted, by a roof and four walls. He gets what money he needs doing odd jobs at Fairmont Methodist Church on Clark Street.

So when he found an orange wallet lying in the street outside the church last week, he did what came naturally.

He gave the credit cards, the Which Wich restaurant card, the driver’s license and the keys to Rev. Beth Gaines, hoping she would track down the owner. Then he went for his daily walk, waving at all who passed.

Just down the block, Jayme Wainer woke up not even realizing her wallet had gone missing, let alone been rescued by a homeless man.

She’d just finished up the semester at N.C. State University, where she studies parks, recreation and tourism management, and she’d taken a cab home the night before after a night out with friends. The wallet, she guessed later, must have slipped out of her bag while she was paying the cabbie.

But Wainer, 21, first heard of this mishap from Pastor Beth, who sent her an email, called her parents’ house in Greensboro and left a friend request on LinkedIn. Within an hour, Wainer had the wallet back, and Gaines told her a bit about the man who found it.

Everybody knows him around Hillsborough Street. With his white beard and black cowboy hat, he’s hard to miss.

He moves his sleeping bag from place to place, but he doesn’t have anywhere to stow a blanket or extra clothes.

He fills the dishwasher after church luncheons and earns a little money doing it. He does some yard work, too, borrowing tools from the parsonage.

He gets his mail at the church and sometimes lingers in the fellowship hall to get warm. On sunny days, you might see him sitting on a park bench outside the church. Once, he walked two miles to a Food Lion to buy Pastor Beth a birthday cake.

He’s a talker, and he loves to read.

Both Wainer and her mother Kim in Greensboro wanted to get John a gift. It would have been so easy for him to walk off with the credit cards (there was no cash in the wallet, Jayme said). They couldn’t believe a man with so many needs wouldn’t be tempted to take a free buck when it landed literally at his feet.

Pastor Beth suggested against cash. Also food. Somebody once gave him two or three turkeys for Thanksgiving, and he gave them all away.

She named a few books John might like.

She mentioned that he’d just gotten a new pair of hiking boots and would like a pair of warm socks.

She told them about the two left gloves.

So on Thursday, Wainer dropped off a bag full of thank-you gifts: the socks and the gloves. It’s waiting for John in the church office.

I tried to find him last week but couldn’t. I checked in the fellowship hall and on the park bench outside, but he must have been out walking somewhere.

I’ve had bank cards stolen before. Readers of this column may recall the thieves who took themselves out to a $76 dinner with my debit card number, bought $115 in clothes from Lacoste and – strangest of all – bought themselves $96 worth of embroidery work.

So I wanted to send a Christmas greeting to the man who had easy money in his hand and chose to give it back. Best wishes and stay warm, John.

Peace.

jshaffer@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4818

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