My mom called me earlier tonight, but I was in the middle of putting the kids down and had to let it go to voicemail. She left me a message about needing a small favor, and asked me to call back after 8. M and I snuck downstairs to put the final coat of paint on some doors we’re working on, then I finally had a minute to call her back.
She’s been working on something for church this Sunday, and asked me if it would be okay if she could share the story of something that happened to me when I was 13. It was something I haven’t thought about in years, but it’s really one of my favourite memories. It’s a reminder that even when I am feeling alone, I have always been surrounded by really, really amazing people.
(Many of them coming from my beloved home in the North.)
Luckily, I have always been a writer. I wrote this story out in detail shortly after it happened, and I found the file tucked away in an old folder I haven’t looked in in years. I’m so glad that I did–there were details I had long forgotten that I’m glad won’t be missed.
I just did a quick post search, and I don’t think I’ve ever told this story here. If I have, let this just be a refresher. It’s worth reading twice.
When I was 13, I got to go on a trip to Toronto with all the Grade 8 students from my school. Now that might not sound like a big deal down here, but when you’re 13 and living in a tiny town 8 hours away–it’s very exciting. I saved all my paper route money for months so that I could have some spending money while I was there. I managed to pull together $225–more than I had ever really had at one time before.
Everything about Toronto was exciting. I still have that feeling of awe when I come into the city, regardless of how many times I’ve been there. I love it. I have always loved it. Toronto just… speaks to me.
The first day of the trip was amazing. I can’t remember our itinerary now, but it was magical. We had so many things planned for the week, and one of the things I was most excited for was going to see a 3D IMAX for the first time. The theater was massive and packed with people. We were slated to see two shows that night, and in between movies I made a mad dash for the bathroom. Being the inexperienced small town girl that I was, I had all my money with me in my cool leopard print wallet.
After all, keeping it in my purse was way safer than leaving it at the hotel, right? Right.
I vaguely remember setting my wallet down while I went to the bathroom, then in my hurry to get back to the theater, I must have left it behind. I didn’t realize it was missing until I was back in my seat and opened my purse again. I ran back to the bathroom to look for it, but by that point it–and my $225–were long gone.
My mom was actually on the trip with me as a chaperone, and together we searched everywhere. We found some sympathetic IMAX security guards who helped us look with no luck. Our wonderful bus driver even got in on the search, but it was just… gone.
I was devastated. We called home so that I could talk to my Dad, but even his offer to help replace part of what I had lost did little to console me. I had worked so hard to earn that money, and of course, our highly anticipated big shopping excursion to Square One was happening the next day. My classmates learned what had happened through whispers along the bus aisle, and though they tried to cheer me up, I remember crawling into bed at the hotel and crying myself to sleep.
The next morning I was in no hurry to leave the hotel. I was one of the last ones to get on our bus, and I found an empty seat near the back where I thought I could hide away.
I felt a tap on shoulder from behind me. I turned to see the face of a boy in my class. He smiled at me, and handed me a crisp $20 bill. Staring at the money in my hands, I quietly asked what it was for. His words brought tears to my eyes: he had felt badly about what happened, and wanted to donate to the “H Fund”. Before I had a chance to reply, I saw another $20 fall into my lap. Crying, I looked up to see the face of another boy I was good friends with, and behind him were several more of my classmates.
As I sat on the bus, kids who didn’t have much money themselves were sending $5, $10 and $20 dollar bills down the aisle. Before long I had a wad of cash in my lap, and as I choked out a humble “Thank You” the entire bus started to cheer.
A short time later we pulled up at McDonalds, and my teacher held me back as the rest of the kids filed into the restaurant for breakfast. He quietly handed me an envelope with $50 in it. I began to protest that it was too much, but he simply closed my hands around the envelope, and with a wink and a smile he told me that he always brought “emergency money” in case something like this happened.
My mom and I sat on the bus and counted the money together. In all, I had been given $230–all that I had lost, plus five dollars. I ran into the restaurant to tell my class, and I’ll never forget how everyone cheered (completely ignoring the looks from all the regular customers who were already annoyed that the restaurant was full of kids).
I never did find my wallet. I’ve decided to think that maybe the person who took it needed that money much more than I did. In any case, in taking my wallet they actually gave me something worth so much more than those hard earned dollars: an incredible reminder that I know some pretty amazing people. Kids who selflessly gave from what they had simply because their friend was sad. They saw a need, and they filled it. My purse was empty, but that day… my heart was full. I’ve lost touch with some of those kids over the years, but many of them are still some of my favourite people on this earth. I swear, Northern Ontario makes some pretty dang good people and I’m so lucky to know them.
I’m a lucky hot dog. <3