Thursday, May 1, 2008

Follow the money

“You think there’s no good left in this world,” Mary Woeste of Cambria said. “You listen to the news and ask yourself, ‘Can it get any worse?’ And then something like this happens.”

Mary, a warmly caring woman eternally on the go, is a caregiver for seniors. She has more to do than time to do it.

I’ve known Mary for about a quarter century. Her brother and uncle, Keith Woeste and Pat Wade, were best pals with our sons Brian and Sean.

About a month ago, after a long shift, Mary was rushing to the post office to buy a money order, carrying cash in an envelope, five $100 bills saved up from Christmas and birthday gifts.

“I must have picked up the envelope upside down,” she surmised. As the money fluttered away, full-speed-ahead Mary was probably already a half-block away. She didn’t notice until, at the post office, she reached inside the now-empty envelope.

She went looking for the cash, but didn’t find it.

“I said to myself, ‘OK, it’s gone. I just hope the person who picked it up needed it worse than I do.’”

However, Henry Rodriguez, on his lunch break from Antiques on Main, had spotted two $100 bills. He thought, “It can’t be real. It must be play money. But then I saw someone else picking up paper in front of the drug store.”

Steve Johnson of Bend, Ore., had found the other $300 and was walking toward Henry. Once they figured out that the money didn’t belong to either of them, Henry gave his two bills to Steve and went to lunch.

Steve was puzzled. How to find the owner? He did what any smart guy would do — he consulted his parents, Loren and Jeanette Johnson of Cambria, telling them, “It was raining $100 bills downtown! I’ve just found $500, and I don’t know how to find out who it belongs to.”

He decided to check at the drug store.

Bingo! This is a small town. Chances are good that if you’re looking for somebody, somebody else you know will know that somebody.

Cambria Village Pharmacy clerk Mandy Ervin, recalls, “A man came in and asked Kris Morris and me if someone had lost some money. We said ‘yes, five $100 bills.’ He pulled them out of his wallet.”

Then he left, but the man who’d had a fistful of dollars wouldn’t be a man with no name for long.

Sue Patchen and Kay Ash were unloading their van in front of the antique mall. Henry came back to work. “I found $200, but we don’t know who it belongs to,” he told coworkers, including Debborah Patchen.

She told her mom and Kay, and they said they’d seen a distraught Mary going from store to store in East Village, asking if anyone had seen her $500.

Debborah called Anne Winburn, owner of St. Mary Mead, a shop across the street. By the time they called Mary, she already knew her money had been found. You see, the drug store clerks also knew Mary, and the pharmacist knew how to reach her.

Mary remembers, “The girl at the pharmacy called me and said, ‘I’m in tears. You won’t believe what just happened.’”

An amazed, grateful Mary “went right down, got the money and went straight to the post office.” But she was dismayed to not know who her Good Samaritan was.

That didn’t last long. Soon, Mary tracked down Good Guy Henry, just a couple doors down the block.

Mary didn’t need CSI Cambria to figure out the rest, because —surprise, surprise — it turns out Henry had known Steve when the Bend resident owned a store in San Simeon.

Mary called Steve’s mom, Jeanette Johnson. Jeanette asked, “How did you find out so fast?”

This is Cambria, Jeanette.

Mary wanted to send a “thank-you” gift. Jeanette checked with her son, then told Mary he wouldn’t take anything, “but you can send him a card.”

Mary said that, on the card, she told Steve that the next time he comes to town, “at least I hope he’ll let me treat him and his family to dinner … What a guy. I’m forever in his debt … and so is my American Express card.”

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