The Mysterious Adventures a 26-Year-Old Wallet

by Katy on January 28, 2010 · 39 comments

Like bumper stickers on the back of a car, one can usually tell a fair amount about a person by the possessions they choose to carry around.  High heeled shoes and a tall venti latté, or Birkenstocks and a mason jar of yerba maté? Whether we like to admit it or not, we are at least somewhat defined by our possessions.

I recently had a time capsule of my fifteen-year-old self enter back into my life in the form of a lost wallet. This 26-year-old relic arrived at my father’s house on Christmas Eve and was handed to me as a gift.

The wallet included an anonymous letter, written in a handwriting not usually found with those under the age of seventy, which read:

Dear Mr. Wolk:

I believe this wallet belongs to your daughter Katherine Wolk-Stanley — I found it on the Burnside Bridge many, many years ago. I recently found it in a drawer that I was cleaning — I had always meant to return it but had neglected to send it to you. I apologize to your daughter. Please see that she receives this —

Thank you

I have no memory whatsoever of losing my wallet in 1983, and I especially don’t remember having one stolen, but the evidence outweighs my shoddy memory.

But one thing is clear, 15-year-old Katy is a lot different than 42-year-old Katy.

Let’s start with the wallet itself, which is made from a traditional Guatemalan huipil. The signature, nee stereotypical wallet of hippies worldwide. This is not a wallet I would carry anymore, and I’m surprised I had one to begin with.

The wallet contained:

  • One tenth grade student ID
  • Two house keys, one of which was bent by the psychic Uri Geller, but still continues to function.
  • A magazine photo of a girl looking off in the distance and superimposed with her grinning wildly at the camera. Was this some kind of inspiration to me in 1983?!
  • A school picture of my sister’s friend Amanda.
  • Two fortunes from Chinese fortune cookies. They read:
  • “You will do to expand your business”
  • “Genius does what it must, and talent does what it can.”
  • A slip of paper that reads, “Deposito por Envases, ¢1200 Montelimar.” (I spent the summer of 1983 in Costa Rica on an exchange program.)
  • A note on 3 X 5 card that reads, “Please excuse Katy Wolk-Stanley for missing school on Friday — she was with her sister who had just graduated from High School — Tony Wolk.”
  • A calling card from “Elaine Lustig G.”
  • My mother’s business card from the Oregon Journal as an “Entertainment Writer.”
  • Two youth membership cards from The Jewish Community Center.
  • A receipt from the “Banco Nacional de Costa Rica.”
  • Two receipts for traveler’s checks.
  • Two bus passes for March and May of 1983. (What, no April?)
  • A credit union withdrawal voucher for $30.
  • A Multnomah County Library card with an expiration date of September 7, 1977.
  • One Canadian 1979 quarter  and a 1995 nickel.
  • A 2003 five dollar bill and a 2006 one dollar bill.

This wallet was a criminal’s dream. Not only did it contain my father’s address, but it also held still-working keys to his house. It also had the number of a credit union account that I used up until a few years ago.

I don’t believe for a minute that this wallet was “found on the Burnside Bridge” and then put aside for 26 years. My theory is that someone either stole it and is now making amends, (hence the post 1983 cash) or that someone found a stash of wallets from a son or grandson and is trying to reunite them with their original owners.

Despite the creepiness of having a wallet anonymously mailed to me, I actually like the snapshot of my 15-year-old self. A girl who traveled, exchanged currency, visited the J.C.C. and still got her dad to write excuses for school absences. (Although I apparently didn’t turn them in!) I even enjoy the bizarrely flat affect of my school I.D. and especially am enjoying reuniting with my childhood library card.

My 42-year-old lady wallet is much more serious, filled with work related licenses, a debit card, credit cards, gift cards and such. It may not have been an official time capsule, but it’s awakening the fifteen-year-old-girl inside of me.

Okay readers, here’s a task for you. I want you to decide how I should spend this $6.05 windfall. Should I tuck it away in savings, use it for debt reduction or spend it on something fun and frivolous? Please share your suggestions in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

Iris January 29, 2010 at 3:01 am

what a great surprise! 🙂 respect to coin girl’s eagle eye – I would’ve never noticed the date on banknotes or coins! makes one wonder, right?

I’d spend the cash on something your 15-year-old-self would have enjoyed… dunno – icecream?


Kris-ND January 30, 2010 at 11:23 am

Oh, I like that idea! That would be a fun thing to see. Lip Gloss maybe? Trying to think about what I would have spent money on at 15, and the one thing that popped into my head was Jack in the Box

When I was 15/16, my friends and I would go to Jack in the Box down the street from the high school every day for lunch(Open campus). The Jack in the Box tacos were really cheap, so we could get a bunch and share for cheap.

I am interested to see what you will do with it, if you take the idea Iris gave you.


Kristia@Family Balance Sheet January 29, 2010 at 4:39 am

That story is funny, yet creepy at the same time.

I like Iris’s suggestion, what would 15 yo Katy splurge on?


Amy Dunn January 29, 2010 at 5:42 am

I’m with Iris. Spend it with abandon on a childhood delight.


Jinger January 29, 2010 at 6:25 am

Great story! Spend it on something luscious!


Shannon January 29, 2010 at 6:39 am

I would go buy some blue mascara and a couple of 99 cent music downloads for, say, Abba or Night Ranger, lol. 🙂


Katy January 29, 2010 at 7:43 am


Blue mascara? I had that, because you match your mascara color to your eye color. Makes perfect sense to me!

Katy Wolk-Stanley
The Non-Consumer Advocate


Katy January 29, 2010 at 7:44 am

And no Abba or Night Ranger. Maybe Men at Work instead.

“She just smiled and gave me a Vegemite sandwich!”



Colleen January 29, 2010 at 6:48 am

I think your theory about a parent finding the stash is better — I think 12 step programs push for the truth when making amends.

I’ll be a dissenter and say add it to your savings.


nancy from mass January 29, 2010 at 7:43 am

I would buy something for the family to enjoy that a 15 yo would like. a half gallon of ice cream with hot fudge sauce or butterscotch sauce, jimmies (or sprinkles), real whipped cream, etc. then have an ice cream party in rememberence of your teen years!


Jean January 29, 2010 at 7:50 am

I vote for spending it. Go out and buy something you can really enjoy. We all need a little unexpected pleasure in our lives.

It would be interesting to know the full story of what happened to the wallet.


Lindy January 29, 2010 at 8:04 am

That is so bizarre! Why put $6.00 in it? A neat story but the mystery behind it would drive me nuts. ha.

To the poster who mentioned the blue mascara. I also remember wearing that! Thanks for the memory. 🙂

I think you should go to the thrift store and see what you can find for $6.05 and share with us what you bought. 🙂


Jen January 29, 2010 at 8:21 am

Hmm, that’s interesting sleuth work with the modern coins. Strange story, but one I’m sure you’ll tell again and again.

I second the icecream!


Katy January 29, 2010 at 8:56 am

My 11-year-old son just left for school and needed $3 cash for a “Hats for Haiti” event at his school where they are ignoring the normal “no hats allowed” rule if you bring a donation for Haitian earthquake relief. And he had a fedora that was burning to get worn to school.

I had no other cash at home, so I handed him the five dollar bill.

I do still want to do something special with $6.05, so I may withdraw $5 from the credit union. Is this cheating?

Katy Wolk-Stanley
The Non-Consumer Advocate


Kas January 29, 2010 at 1:13 pm

no… that’s a sidestep, but very justified!!


WilliamB January 30, 2010 at 7:43 am

Absolutely not cheating. Money is fungible – why does it matter *which* $5 bill you use?

PS: the thieving person isn’t necessarily a boy.


DeanWoodley September 3, 2020 at 8:03 am

Having the money spent by a child fits with the proper outcome.
Not cheating to go ahead and make up the money from the credit union.
Ask for $2 dollar bills and a dollar coin. It will make it more fun!


Kristin @ klingtocash January 29, 2010 at 9:14 am

I like the other posters idea to purchase something that 15 year old Katy would have enjoyed that you can share with your family.

It is very creepy to get your wallet back after such a long time but I think the walk down memory lane is probably worth the creep factor.


Rebecca January 29, 2010 at 9:17 am

I would break out the year books, and put on some era music and reminisce. Your kids will get a kick out of seeing you back then.


Laurie January 29, 2010 at 9:27 am

Blue, LIQUID mascara! Amethist smoke lipstick. AHHHHHHH the memories.

How about a frame for your neat treasures?


Raffaella January 29, 2010 at 9:36 am

This story is fantastic. I love such unexpected/nostalgic events (with even a hint of thriller) 🙂


TraciFree January 29, 2010 at 9:37 am

Something made by Wet n’ Wild sounds appropriate.


Katy January 29, 2010 at 10:06 am

I am leaning towards $6.05 from a thrift store, with a Wet n’ Wild lipstick purchase with any leftover cash. The ice cream sounds good, but we do that often enough and that’s more a treat for everyone else than me. Needless to say, the kids do not get a vote on this one.

Katy Wolk-Stanley
The Non-Consumer Advocate


Kas January 29, 2010 at 1:11 pm

this was a lovely message to receive from your past… I would spend it on something my 15 year old self would have spent it on around that time… around that time in my life I had 15 penfriends!! so thats where my money would have gone… toward postage stamps…


fairydust January 29, 2010 at 1:44 pm

I guess I’m a little different on this one – I don’t think it’s creepy at all; I think it’s really cool! I would LOVE to suddenly have back a wallet of mine from when I was 15, just to see what I had/did/wanted/kept. I don’t really remember and would think it’s a fabulous magickal look back, in a way 🙂

I admit my first thought about what to do with the $6 is to put it into savings, but the ice cream idea truly appeals!


Marianne January 29, 2010 at 3:50 pm

why was there recent currency in it? Was the person using your wallet all these years…
First, Dress yourself up like your high school ID, then go to the store and try to pass yourself off as 15 while buying cigarettes. JK.
Use it to buy pop rocks and coke, and put the rest in a memory frame.


Diana January 29, 2010 at 5:52 pm

Why think about spending money?

Maybe you have a turn in fortune. Put the money in the jar and every time money comes to you in a surprising way ( you find it on the street, you get an unexpected extra check, etc) either add it to the jar or place a note with the amount. At the end of the year you may have a small fortune. When surprising things like this happen, I believe that energy has shifting. Partly your energy to receive and partly the action of someone towards action/change. Your old wallet came back to you…what are the odds of that? It is a gift, make it a symbolic ritual or a reminder that good things happen to you.


namastemama January 30, 2010 at 8:16 am

This is my fav. Do some version of this suggestion. I thought you should frame the money with your ID so you always have this memory to look at and ponder on.


Pennie January 29, 2010 at 6:42 pm

I’m also for spending it on something the 15-year-old in you would have spent it on…

I heard that Farrell’s Ice Cream Shop was returning to the PDX area–perhaps your ice cream could be enjoyed at this establishment for a real blast-from-the -past experience!


Marie-Josée January 29, 2010 at 6:47 pm

How fun and mysterious. I think you should splurge the money on something the past and current you would both appreciate.


Caroline January 29, 2010 at 7:18 pm

Given that the wallet return brought up so many memories and questions, I think it would be interesting to consider what your older, 60 something self would want you to do with the money and what you imagine what she would want for herself as well as for her 40 something self.


Jay January 29, 2010 at 7:20 pm

Use that last dollar to buy a lotto ticket – something for fun that could turn into more!

(But the pop rocks & Coke idea’s pretty cool too.)


Christy January 29, 2010 at 7:24 pm

This is a VERY funny post. I especially love it b/c I lived in Portland for the first 22 years of my life (I am now 39), so can relate to the stuff that you had!!! Maybe you should buy some “Crazy 8’s” tickets with that money. One of my highschool friends said they are playing this weekend!!!


Lorna January 29, 2010 at 7:43 pm

Send it to Haiti…it might just make some teenage Haitian girl’s day!


Becky January 30, 2010 at 7:58 am

I think you should take your Dad out for coffee/ice cream or whatever would have been your favorite splurge when you were 15. The universe sent you a message by having it delivered to your Dad.


Karen January 30, 2010 at 10:36 am

Yes, give the 15 year old within a treat. Wet ‘n Wild sounds just right.

One time my uncle’s wallet showed up years after he had died. Here it was in a box of unrelated stuff, at my Mom’s house. She was blank about how it might have gotten there. But we gave the wallet to my aunt, who was the only surviving member of that part of the family. She was moved to tears when she got the wallet with her big brother’s license, social security card and navy I D, etc. It was truly a time capsule from 1947 that made us all think about him, even his nieces who never got to meet him. For me, the wallet at last made him a real person.


Lisa January 30, 2010 at 11:19 am

Take your Dad to the thrift store with you, and have fun! Also, suggest to him that he might want to get his locks changed. You never know!!!


lorene January 30, 2010 at 5:31 pm

Give it away to a truly needy person.


Hiptobeme February 2, 2010 at 10:05 pm

Maybe the seventy year old was the theif and was on his or her death bed. Creepy.


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