I had just parked my car this morning after a masterfully executed parallel parking job in traffic, when as I exited the vehicle, I found a quarter staring up at me from the pavement. Now there are several ways to react to this found treasure. Most would likely dismiss it and possible have never risked traffic to even pick it up. After all, what does a quarter buy today…a gumball or maybe an after dinner mint? Some would pick it up just simply because it was something. Still others, like myself, would see it as an omen and maybe even a message. I viewed it as a message. A message from my Uncle Len.
Leonard Wundrow was my father’s younger brother and the source of most of the Wundrow joke reservoir. Any time that Uncle Len would stop by the farm, and that was often, we would be regaled with a litany of his jokes and stories, many I am sure, the kind my mother would have censored had she had the chance. There was never a dull moment when Len was involved.
But the story I want to share concerns Uncle Len’s past time. He would go for walks, head down, searching for the lost treasures of those who had passed before. Those little pieces of change that fell out of the pocket each time you reached in for your keys or a pocket knife or some other small tool. A penny here, a nickel there and if you were lucky the occasional quarter or even half dollar could be found if you knew where to look and you kept your eyes to the ground. Uncle Len was a pro and by the time he retired and found hours of additional time to search, a veritable force to be reckoned with. His house held jars full of coins waiting for their trip to the bank. Each day we would get the report, the tally for the day of treasures found.
Uncle Len’s secret, knowing where and when to look. Near the parking meter, outside the bar any early morning or in the park the morning after the fair. Locate the beer tent remains and the treasure could be impressive. He would sometimes take us with him and we would be shown the tricks of the trade but sworn to secrecy on his high production sites. One morning, the day after the VFW Fair had pulled up stakes and rolled out of town, Uncle Len hit the mother load. After a productive area pass of pocket dropped coins, Len found, tightly rolled up, a C note. Yes, My Uncle Len had found a one hundred dollar bill! His glee was contagious, his question possibly a bit naive. He was musing as to why any one would roll up a hundred dollar bill into such a small tube. They could of used it for a straw! He even considered using it as such to which we immediately said “DON’T!” I will leave it with you there, just as we did way back then.
We loved our Uncle Len. He was a character that kept his family and ours always on your toes. When he passed, he left the missing person syndrome in every family gathering that followed but he also left his legacy. To this day, and to a person in the Wundrow families, we can not pass a dropped coin without hearing his voice saying “you gonna pick that up?” So you see, this morning, with traffic whizzing by, I never thought twice, I bent down, stopped traffic, and retrieved the coin. Stepping back onto the sidewalk, my wife asked what I was doing. When I showed her the coin, we looked at each other and said, “Uncle Len’s watching us today.”
Legacies are the essence of who we were that we leave behind when we go. I can only hope that long after I am gone, I will have left some legacy, even if it just a quirky habit like viewing the little things as a treasure.
It would not be fair to end this story without reporting on what we did with the quarter. We left it in the tip jar at the cafe where we enjoyed breakfast and shared a memory or two of Uncle Len. Anything else would have seemed sacrilegious. Who knows how many hands that quarter will touch or what it might help accomplish. Thanks Uncle Len. One man’s treasure.
I still check out cigarette packs whenever I see them discarded along the road. Uncle Len told me that often people would slip a five between the cellophane and the paper wrapping so they would always have money for their next buy. Thanks for sharing Memories of Uncle Len!