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Bobbie Smith knew right away what she would do with the money she found tucked inside a pocketbook she purchased at Wilson’s Belk store.
First, she would secure it in a little box at her Pikeville home and then she would search for its owner.
“I said I’m going to put it up and I will keep it for six months to a year,” Smith said. “If I didn’t hear from anybody, I’m going to pay my 10 percent (to the church) and then I was going to have a little fun.”
But a little detective work and prayer led Smith to 85-year-old Catherine Slade, who had originally purchased the same pocketbook in Wilson, but decided to return it because it was too large. Slade left her belongings inside, including a light blue change purse filled with cash she was saving for a trip. When she discovered she had lost it, she went back to Belk, but the pocketbook was gone.
Little did she know at the time, Smith had purchased the same pocketbook.
“For some reason I didn’t get really upset,” Slade recalled. “I kept thinking I was going to find it. I was praying and asking the Lord to help me find it. I went to every store I had been to that day.”
ONE POCKETBOOK, TWO OWNERS
Smith, who retired from Johnson County Schools last year, loves a good sale when it comes to shopping. At a recent trip to the Belk store in Goldsboro, she found a black leather Jessica Simpson pocketbook she really liked. Smith ended up putting it back. She wanted to think about it.
“If it’s meant for me, it will still be there,” Smith always says.
Smith told her granddaughter about the pocketbook she found and wanted to show her. But when they went back to the accessory area, it was gone. Someone else must have wanted it, too, she said.
Several days later, Smith decided to go to Belk in Wilson to see if that same pocketbook she liked so much was there.
“This was the first thing I saw,” Smith said holding up the pocketbook. While it wasn’t the same one she found in Goldsboro, she liked this one even better. It was on sale for half off the original price.
She knew she scored a deal.
‘I JUST COULDN’T BELIEVE THIS’
When Smith got home that day, she put the pocketbook away in her closet until she was ready to use it. But she later got it back out to make sure her stuff would fit inside. When she unzipped the front pocket, she discovered a small, light blue change purse. She opened it up.
“I just couldn’t believe this,” Smith said. “I put down the phone and I started counting. It turned out to be 10 twenty-dollar bills, five ones and one fifty-dollar bill — $255.”
Smith also found a sheet of paper. It was a calendar with a woman’s name — Catherine Slade — written at the top of it.
“I got on Facebook and started looking,” Smith said.
A SEARCH AND A PRAYER
Smith, who rarely uses Facebook, said her search revealed three women with the same name. But one stood out from the rest, a description of a woman who lived in Wilson. Smith said she got her son to help her message the woman on March 3. She was hopeful it was the right person.
Two weeks went by and she still hadn’t heard from the woman. While was she was a bit discouraged, she put her faith in God.
“Lord, if it’s for me to give this money to whoever it belongs to, please let me hear from them,” Smith prayed.
The next day, Smith received a message from Slade, who also rarely uses Facebook. She wanted to know if Smith had purchased the pocketbook at Belk in Wilson.
Slade, who was up north at the time getting chemotherapy and visiting her daughter, told Smith she had lost a small, light blue change purse and it had $150 in it.
“I knew I was talking to the right person,” Smith said, adding that she gave Slade her cellphone number so the two could connect. “I told her it wasn’t $150 but $255.”
Slade was overwhelmed when she read the message.
“I didn’t think I had any identification in there,” the 85-year-old said. “I was wondering ‘How on Earth did she find me?’ I was so happy and surprised.”
Slade, who didn’t return to Wilson until earlier this month, kept in touch with Smith, who told her she would meet her and return the money.
‘I’M JUST DOING WHAT’S RIGHT’
Last week, the two women met for the first time at The Wilson Times. Smith brought the same pocketbook she had purchased more than a month prior. It still had the tags on it. She said she didn’t want to use it until she returned Slade’s money. Smith then pulled out the small, light blue change purse.
Slade immediately became overjoyed.
“A lot of people would have never done that with that much money in there,” Slade said with tears in her eyes. “I was so surprised and wondering who this lady was that was so honest and had my money. I was thrilled to know that there was someone who was still honest. There are honest people.”
After Smith returned the money, Slade tried to give her a $50 reward. But she wouldn’t take it.
“She doesn’t owe me anything,” Smith said. “I’m just doing what’s right.”
Slade insisted Smith take $20 for gas and traveling to Wilson and spending the time to search for her. Smith eventually accepted it.
‘OUR DADDY TAUGHT US HONESTY’
Both women discussed how they believed God’s hand was in it all. Smith also shared with Slade what happened to her in January while she was attending a church revival service.
“The pastor told me that God had something he wanted me to do because he could trust me,” Smith said.
Smith, who is one of 14 siblings, said while her family didn’t have much growing up, they were taught many values that she still lives by today.
“Our daddy always taught us honesty,” Smith said. “I never once thought it was my money.”
Slade said despite what many might think, there are still honest and good people in this world. And she believes her story proves that God works in mysterious ways.
“It was meant for her to get it,” Slade said about the pocketbook. “If somebody else had gotten it, I would have probably never got the money back.”