The Magic Wallet

magic wallet

I was 5 years old and it was my big brother’s 18th birthday. My parents organized a big family celebration for him at our house- all of the relatives were invited.

Mom prepared a buffet meal. Then came the HUGE birthday cake for my brother with an image of a red sports car engraved in the frosting (he had loudly and repeatedly asked for a car for his birthday, and my parents explained to him that THERE IT WAS!!).  After the cake was cut, it was time for him to open his presents.

There was clothing of all kinds: shirts, ties, sweaters. There were phonograph records. There was a manual typewriter. There was even a portable, battery powered, transistor AM AND FM radio. Finally, my brother opened the physically small gift presented by Granduncle Vladimir or, as we called him, Uncle Laddie.

He tore off the gift wrap and popped open the box. Inside was a modest but nice, new leather billfold.

As my brother started to dejectedly put the wallet aside, Uncle Laddie said “OPEN IT, young man!” My brother’s face lit up! He snapped open the billfold and looked inside the bill compartment. But there was nothing in it, and his face fell. All of our family and guests, sitting in audience of the gift opening ceremony, shuffled uncomfortably.

Uncle Laddie was aghast, and muttered to himself (this had become his norm). “Er, eh, I swear I put something in there?!” Laddie quickly opened his own wallet and handed my brother a $50 bill, and my brother thanked him.

Laddie was old and not of robust health; his life’s focus had become demonstrating that he wasn’t “losing it”. The gift opening was done and the crowd began to disperse to other parts of the room, many speculating in undertones that Laddie really had a “memory” problem and when would “somebody handle it.”

As natural for any 5 year old boy, I went to inspect my brother’s new treasures- especially the radio. But when he noticed his squirt brother toying with his new prize, he quickly snatched it away from me. So, I looked at the clothing and then began to examine the billfold. I knew that my brother had put the $50 cash in his pocket, so when I flipped the billfold and opened it, I was surprised to find… ANOTHER FIFTY DOLLAR BILL!!!!!!

I froze. Thinking quickly, I realized that if caught by my parents with such a large bill and lacking a credible explanation for its existence I would be in BIG trouble (the spanking kind). So, I shouted at the top of my lungs, “THERE’S ANOTHER FIFTY DOLLAR BILL IN HERE!!! IT MUST BE A MAGIC WALLET!!!”

All conversation ceased; the room was dead silent. My father came over and took the wallet out of my hands. He examined it, rotating it 180 degrees. “THERE ARE TWO PLACES FOR BILLS IN THIS WALLET, ONE ON THE TOP AND ONE ON THE BOTTOM!!” he exclaimed.

Uncle Laddie, who had been cowering in the corner, half afraid that everyone would conclude that age was dimming his mental faculties, and half afraid that age WAS dimming his mental faculties, let out a huge “OH!!” of relief.

My brother, suddenly realizing that he might be getting ONE HUNDRED bucks instead of fifty, immediately began to again thank Uncle Laddie with great animation, for his MOST generous gift. The crowd laughed.

My father interrupted, and sternly instructed my brother to take the fifty dollar bill he had in his pocket and return it to Uncle Laddie. Uncle Laddie tried to refuse, saying it was OK, but my father said “Absolutely not.” Reluctantly, my brother handed the $50 over.

It’s been over fifty years since that day, but I don’t think my older brother ever forgave me for my curiosity regarding the wallet. In any case, he still won’t lend me the transistor radio…


(image courtesy of  graur razvan ionut/