The KIndness of Strangers

In February I was driving down to the Florida Keys for a month to get the cold out of my bones. I stopped in Beaufort, S.C., picked up my in-laws, Marianne and Steve Harrison, and headed south. We stopped overnight in Palm Beach. As we were heading out the next morning, I got a call from the Palisades Library.

“Is this Leslie Smolan? Well, an older gentleman and his wife from Michigan are trying to contact you. He said they found your belongings at a McDonalds.” Mystified, I looked in the back of the car, only to discover that my winter coat (a nice one!) and a bag that contained my checkbook (with $200 cash tucked inside), my late mother’s checkbook, my late husband Rodney’s checkbook, my income tax file, an irreplaceable 1944 portrait of Rodney’s parents and the program for his grandparents 50th Anniversary, two important photo books and N95 masks were missing! How was that possible? Thinking back, we did stop at a McDonald for lunch and I recall removing something from our packed car. Shortly afterward, a driver honked to signal my hatch door was open! Oh no!

The library gave me the phone number for Dallas Beaty. I tried to text him, but he wasn’t a texter. When we finally connected, he told me how he and his wife Jackie found the bag on the ground when they stopped at McDonalds. After looking inside, they were determined to track me down! The local police told them to leave it where they found it. My bank refused to provide any information, but the Palisades Library came through. (Dallas admitted apologetically that they saw my donation letter from the Library when digging through paperwork).

I babbled a hundred thanks and encouraged them to keep the cash, which they refused. Dallas and Jackie shipped everything back to me at their own expense. I sent them a gift from Zingermans (just coincidentally in Michigan), a copy of Rodney’s last book and cash to reimburse their outlay. Jackie made a point of speaking to me. “We all lose things. I just hope someday someone does the same for me.”

We met a month later in Melrose Beach on my drive back north. Dallas had just retired from 42 years as a heavy equipment operator at a steel mill. He was one of 12 kids, and the only sibling to leave the farm and work outside of Detroit. Instead of golfing and fishing, he was now restoring antique cars. He and Jackie were taking a well-deserved break before heading back to Michigan.

We all marveled at how this random event brought us together. They felt good about their good deed and my faith in humanity was restored. During this weird moment in history, when all we hear about is the bad and the ugly and are encouraged to fear “the other,” it was heartwarming to discover the kindness of strangers.

Coda: A week after getting everything returned, Rodney’s instagram account was taken down by Turkish hackers, but that’s a story for another day… Leslie Smolan