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Saturday, March 30, 2013

But She Had a Letter from a Church; or Who Do I Make the Check Out To?


We were sitting in the backyard, Willie, Jon, Mary and I.

And we were pretty happy.

Happy laughing, happy talking, happy drunk. And why not? It was summer, after all, the summer of 2005.

There had been people in the backyard all day, one of those spontaneous, joyous days when coupons are suddenly worth double, the car stops making that annoying “tick-tick-tick” sound, and friends drop by unannounced.

Mary is describing the time that Jon used a front-end loader to ensure that his neighbor had enough snow in his front yard – an escapade that filled said yard to the top of the fence – when a woman opens the gate and walks into the backyard.

“Excuse me? Ma’am?”

I turn to see a small woman rapidly approaching. Perhaps five feet two, her hair has seen too many sloppily applied box dyes, her skin too many days in the sun. The word“wizened” comes to mind.

“Ma’am?” she says. “Are you a Christian woman?”

Mary leans forward, grins at her. “She sure is! Have a seat, why don’t ya!”

If the woman had been wearing a hat, she’d be clutching it now, perhaps in a wringing motion at the chest. “Oh, no, ma’am. I couldn’t intrude.”

The thought she that she both could and has intruded enters my brain.

I crack open another beer and we stare at each other. I give in rather quickly. “What is it that you want?”

“Well, you see, ma’am…” and here she pulls an envelope from her back pocket and hands it to me. I pull a letter from the envelope. It has been folded and refolded many times, the creases worn shallow and weak. “To Whom It May Concern”…

I look up. “What is this?” I say.

“Just read it, please, ma’am.”

It is a letter on the letterhead of one of the churches just a block away. It endorses the bearer as having cancer, as requiring medications that neither she nor her seven children can afford. It declares that she is a good citizen of Minneapolis, that she has skills as a tile and bricklayer.

And that she needs $42.45.

“Forty-two forty-five,” I say thoughtfully. “That’s pretty specific.”

“Yes, ma’am. I’m not a beggar, ma’am. I’ve worked all my life, and when I’m in good health, I do a really fine job of laying tile. But I’ve got cancer, and I’ve got seven children, and it’s all I can do to keep a roof over our heads let alone afford my medicine. The $42.45 is what I need a week to keep up with my meds. ”

Mary looks at me.

“Without my medication,” the woman goes on, “I’ll die, and who will look after my children?”

I look back at Mary. I jerk my head toward the alley.

“Excuse us for a moment,” I say, and Mary and I take a walk behind the garage.

“What do you think?”

“I think it could be a scam.”

“A pretty specific scam.”

“True.”

“And she has a letter from the church.”

“True.”

I look back toward the house. “And she certainly looks sick.”

“Also true.”

“So what do you think?”

Mary shrugs. “I think I’m flat-busted and that you’re not and that no one wants to see seven mother-less kids.”

I walk back to the umbrella-ed table, to my friends and my beer and my checkbook. I write a check to “CASH” (“I no longer have a bank account, ma’am”).

“Thank you, ma’am”, she says, walking backwards. “Thank you so much!”

She disappears around the front of the house.

Whereupon we go back to our beers.

And over the course of the next couple weeks, that check begins to weigh on me. I was scammed, wasn’t I? Was I? Did a person really come into my backyard for the purposes of taking my money?


I call the church on the letterhead.

“Oh, no,” says a gentle, slightly amused voice on the other end of the line. “Those in need are always welcome to come to us and we’ll help where we can, but we would never hand someone a letter that was basically a license to beg.”



Think of it as a tax on the drunk and gullible. I have.

24 comments:

Lucy Corrander at Loose and Leafy said...

Sometimes, sometimes, people really are needing - and sometimes, sometimes, they even pay it back.

Funny thing that she only wanted to take money from Christian women.

Douglas said...

Yup, you were hustled. Skillfully, though, if that counts.

Yamini MacLean said...

Hari Om
Gullible? Yes.

But you have a heart Pearl. Scam or no. You have a heart. That is your reward. To care even about the possibly criminal says a lot.

Love and Blessings. YAM

Jackie said...

Your heart led you to do the right thing. Blessings to you....

jenny_o said...

A tax on the drunk and gullible, yes, but also on the generous, the kind-hearted, and the empathetic.

A pox on scammers!

joeh said...

I have paid that tax myself many times. I convience myself that at least one of the 18 people that I have given 5.75 for a ticket home at the RR staion because they were robbed might actually have been telling the truth.

Lorna said...

Your head was working but so was your heart. Your heart won. We all win as a result.

savannah said...

bless her heart! i wonder how quickly that check got cashed and where! but then some days i'm just too cynical for my own good! well done you! xoxoxo

Mitchell is Moving said...

Oh, she wouldn't have caught me with that one. I would have immediately questioned the letter from the church. Besides, where the hell was she getting meds for only $42.45 a week?!?

But then I would have lost sleep wondering if I had simply been too cynical.

Birdie said...

Oh, man. Someone once told me the word gullible was not in the dictionary and I believed him.

Many years ago a badly beaten man approached me as I came out of the bank asking for money. His story was he had just been released from hospital after being injured at work as a fisherman. He was needing money to get home to town that would require him to take a bus. I fell for the whole story hook, line and sinker. A few days later I read in the paper to be aware of a man posing as a down on his luck fisherman asking for money.

The moral? He is going to hell.

mybabyjohn/Delores said...

If she needed it, she got it and you did a good thing. If she was scaming she'll pay for it sometime and you still have a good heart and did a good thing.

Daisy said...

You have a kind heart and a generous spirit, Pearl. What goes around comes around. :)

Gigi said...

I'm struck by her gall to just up and walk into your backyard. But then it takes all kinds, I suppose.

Belle said...

Well, she was lying but you did the right thing. It would be pretty hard to say no to her story. I got conned a lot when I lived in a large city, but I figured it was worth it.

Eva Gallant said...

At least she wasn't asking 1045.45.

The Savage said...

Scam or not you are made of awesome.

jeanie said...

Good on you for following your heart anyway.

I remember reading a story about a rich man early last century - a Getty or a Rockerfeller - who was approached by a woman, claiming to be a war widow with starving children - asking for money, which he gave.

His advisors told him he had been taken advantage of.

"You mean there are no starving children? No dead war veteran?"

"No" they told him.

"Good."

Elephant's Child said...

I am singing with the choir here. You probably were scammed, but could you have lived with yourself if you had said no? Empathy might mean that you get burnt from time to time, but it also makes you a much better person to know.

Rose L said...

It is so sad that someone would lie about having cancer and do something like that.

the walking man said...

Should have checked her 501(c)3 status.

Lowandslow said...

Yes, you were probably scammed. But what if.... ?

S

Three Hundred Sixty Five said...

Hmmmm, if it was a scam (probably), it was worth the $42.45 just so that you could later write this story, right? And maybe she really did need the money for something urgent (kind of sounds like a utility bill). I find your generosity heartwarming. XOXO

Jo-Anne Meadows said...

Yeah maybe you got scammed but maybe she really needed the money you may never know giving the money just shows you to be a good woman.....also next time you will not be so gullible.........

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

Oh, jeannie's comment makes me smile.