Monday, March 14, 2011


When Ruth appeared at the bank doors each month, all my sister tellers suddenly feigned being busy. They all knew I would wait on anyone regardless of their pleasantness and they were quite content to let me. Also, I had the window closest to the door.

Ruth, regardless of weather, was always dressed in a mid-weight, long black coat, a flowered neck scarf and black gloves. This was Florida folks and this outfit was worn for all seasons. She never appeared either hot or cold. Her gray hair was pulled into an extremely tight bun that looked almost painful. It was so tight that it had to have performed a mini face lift.

She wore glasses but I am sure they needed upgrading by the way her make up was applied. She had enough rouge on her cheeks to embarrass a clown and her lipstick wandered off her lip line.

As she would approach my window, her smell arrived first. Now she did not have armpit or an unclean under ware smell, but instead smelled musty like an old house that had been shut up for a long time or perhaps like the oldest book in the library. There was a strong desire to sneeze when around her.

She had gotten use to my window being the only beckoning one and usually would head straight for me unless I was actually busy. Our conversation never varied. I would ask her how she was today and her terse reply was. “Well, I woke up this morning so I guess I'm good.” Any other questions or attempts at conversation were met with head nods or shaking. She was not terribly verbal.

So I would smile and she would lay her light bill on the counter. At that time, we collected light and phone bills for the various utility companies which helped the senior population.

Ruth would slide the bill towards me with out further comment. Of course this was years ago but even then she had a minuscule light bill. She must have only had one light bulb, a hot plate and a small refrigerator for her bill was usually well under ten dollars.

Ruth carried a small, well worn black change purse with a snap closure. I would tell her the amount and she would proceed to pull the wrinkled money very slowly out of the purse. A five, a dollars, a half dollar, some quarters, a lot of pennies. These she produced very slowly as she brought them forth one at a time.

Finally, she would empty the contents, shake it to prove there was no more and sigh loudly as if the whole procedure was an exhausting chore. I would count the change, knowing it was not going to be enough. Usually she would be anywhere from a dollar and a half to two dollars short .

When she first started coming in, we tried to tell her that she was not giving us enough money but she would tear up and wring her hands helplessly saying that was all she had.

Feeling just awful, we would always cave and tell her it would be all right, that we had made a mistake and she had just the right amount. After that, we just accepted what ever amount she gave us. Old lady tears are just too painful to watch.

Now, acting as if she had paid the right amount, she waited for me to stamp her bill “paid” and send her on her way, which I always did. I would then write the deficit amount down and would pay it myself later. My head teller knew the routine and would watch me make up the difference in my drawer after closing.

I was not the only teller who did this but I definitely did it the most often. We were all pretty much reluctant Ruth helpers. This went on for a couple of years.

Each Christmas she would bring in the smallest and cheapest box of chocolates available to be shared by all of us girls. Though we worried how she could afford even that small amount, we pretended like it was a box of the finest Swiss chocolates.

One month I was saddened when she did not show up and instead a man saying he was her son presented her light bill. He said his mother had passed and he wanted to thank us for taking care of her. She had evidently had mentioned us to him in good terms. I was more than a bit pleased that she had noticed. Quietly she passed from our lives.

Then a few weeks later, one of the girls came in from lunch all excited. She was waving the local paper and saying,”You are not going to believe this.”

The news story was that her son, wanting to sell our little Ruth's home , was having it renovated. When the contractor removed the tattered wall board, they discovered a little over $36,000, tucked into the walls (in those days, that was a ton of money).

She evidently poked holes in the drywall and dropped the money into the holes , then covered the holes with pictures. No telling how long it took her to amass that amount of money. It had to have taken many years of depriving herself. Our two dollar contributions wouldn't have made a dent.

At first that news story had us grumbling that "no good deed goes unpunished." Eventually though we saw the humor of how that little old lady had totally hoodwinked us. I am pretty sure that even if we had known of her unorthodox wall safe, we probably still would have helped pay her light bill.

As bleak as her life was because she denied herself of most of life's comforts and pleasures, that once a month game she played on us didn't really hurt us and it must have given her some pleasure. In addition it gave her a couple extra dollars to tuck into the wall each month.

Yes, we had all been conned by that little old lady, but we had to admit that she had made us all feel quite good about ourselves whenever she left our windows each month. Pretty sure we got our two bucks worth in self esteem.


  1. Maybe the first time it happened, was for real and your kindness was so appreciated, she continued to seek that feeling of warmth again.

    On a frigid day, I was approached by a crying woman in a parking lot as I was loading my groceries. Her grandmother, whom she was visiting from out of state, was in her car, which was sitting on empty. They had been to the doctor. Neither had money or a cellphone, she used mine, but failed to contact anyone...I could not leave without giving her money, all the time realizing...this could be a scam. The money was worth my peace of mind though.

  2. What a well told story! And Ruth lives in my mind because of your rich description of her. That's also quite an amazing tale. I wonder if she even knew that she had amassed so much money. It probably made her feel better.

  3. Yes, well-told indeed. I have heard similar stories of persons with money actually living in conditions of dire poverty. It's got to be some kind of sickness. You have to wonder what she was thinking with that curious form of wall safe.

  4. My mother's best friend was very like this. She dressed in her husband's old clothes (ragged), tied a scarf around her head when she went out no matter the weather, put on lots and lots of makeup even at age 85 (saying "a girl's got to do what a girl CAN do") and griped about every single penny she had to spend. She did believe in banks, as in multiple banks, and died having over a million dollars in them. She lived with a 40 watt bulb in a lamp in the living room and one in the kitchen and had aluminum foil over her windows to keep in the heat and out the "nosy eyes." She was a real strange lady but we loved her. :) blessings, marlene

  5. Loved your "Ruth" story. It reminded me of a similar person whom I met in the 1960's when I was a bank teller. My original comment here got so long that I decided to make it a blog post! Thanks for the prompt.

  6. It was really nice of you and the other tellers to do that for her. But I can't help thinking - if her son hadn't been doing renovations, the money might never have been found. Very interesting.

  7. You are such a good writer! This was a delightful story.

    My father also found money in a wall after his father died. I guess that was common in those days.

  8. OMG, supposedly my great-grandmother did the same thing!

    You have a good heart, Patti! And a storyteller's magic.

  9. Somehow, I knew when you started this story it would turn out that Ruth had a stash at home. I suppose you can end the Depression, but you can't get some people to forget it. Two thoughts: 1/My hall closet was starting to smell like a musty book and they I looked up and realized I had musty books stashed inside. When I die, they won't find money, only books. Hopefully they will be worth something. The second thought....I forgot. Dianne

  10. What a story! Again a gem in the book you are going to write!!! It's better to be conned than to ignore poor people, better to give something.
    Thanks for the visit. IKEA is very popular in Sweden, that stands to reason. Once we were camping in Sweden and saw a young couple with their arms full of kitchen appliances, crocery and rugs.

  11. I had to laugh at your description of Ruth counting out her money. I had many customers who did the same thing. Cute story.

  12. You really drew great word pictures in this well-crafted post. I appreciate young people who treat my 91-year-old mother with help and respect. You did that. You have inspired me to post (maybe) about a young lady cashier in a dollar store recently.

    My mother was painstakingly (and there is pain involved) counting out her bills and coins for a purchase. There was a line behind her, and I asked Mother if I could help her. The cashier said politely but firmly, "No, this is her turn. She can take all the time she needs. When she is finished, then the next person will have their turn. Then they can take all the time they need." What an amazing attitude in today's "instant" world!

  13. I was a teller once myself and remember similar incidents at our bank. Your blog always elicits memories. . . reminds me of things I want to blog about but never do.

  14. At the bank I worked at, there was a man that came in on Fridays...smelled to high heaven. Clothes were Salvation Army. We served cookies and coffee on Fridays, so this is why he came in at that time. He virtually stuffed himself and his pockets with the cookies, creamers and sugars. When he passed, it was discovered that he was a millionaire...several times over.

  15. Hi Patti,

    First, I am so happy that I discovered your blog. Your stories are so wonderful.

    I loved this story of Ruth. You had me laughing at first, telling us about how considerate your co-workers were to always let you have her at your window.

    Going to the bank was probably one of her highlights. You were her blessing, and being a blessing is a good, good thing.

    Thanks for stopping by and saying hi, Patti.

    Best and God bless,


  16. When my friend's parents died one right after the other, she began dissembling their house, getting it ready for sale. When she was packing away books to donate, money fluttered out from between some pages. She decided she'd better look more closely. Most of the books on their shelves contained a few dollars or a ten or a twenty. I guess some people don't trust banks (except for perhaps the good-hearted tellers working there who help with the electric bills...).

  17. There are many lessons here. I'm sure she was saving for the day that she felt would surely come when she wouldn't even have part of the bill.

    Thanks for sharing.

  18. I think Ruth was saving that money for a rainy day, thinking the future would be worse than her, at the time, present situation.

  19. What a story. Bless her heart, perhaps you ladies at the bank were
    about the only humans she had contact with. All though I wonder how she got her groceries and paid any other bills. Perhaps, she was always a little short where ever she went and that's how she got her money to save, think about it, if you are always short on every thing you have to buy and everyone let her get away with it, she could easily come up with quite a little bundle. LOL But I imagine it did make one feel good, thinking they were helping the little old lady. Love the story. I'm telling you, you need to write a book of short stories.

  20. Oh, I love this story. These little vignettes of lives and moments are absolutely rivetting. Thank you for telling them.

  21. I firmly believe that the gift is nearly always for the giver, not the recipient. You did the right thing; what Ruth did or didn't do is a completely separate story. I tell myself this over and over when I do something similar. Great post. :)

  22. Wanda,
    Oh no, I do believe you were scammed but you did what most people would do for what if it wasn't a scam? Who can take the chance.
    I had the same thing happen though it was a young woman and her toddler son. I told her I had no cash but took her to get her "empty tank" filled on my credit card. It took 2 gallons to fill it.

    She probably didn't know unless she kept tabs on what she dropped in the holes for there was no way to count it later. Thank you.

    Thank you too. Pretty sure the great depression infected a lot of people with a fear of banks though ordinary misers do exhist.

    It probably gave her a sense of security. It was a shame for that money could have done so much good. I am glad that she was loved inspite of herself. Says a lot about your mom.

    Ha ha, commented yourself right into a blog post huh. I have done that also. Can't wait to read yours.

    I also thought, what if the house burned down or a hurricane tore it up?

    Thank you so much. Interesting about your grandfather. It must have been the way for people of that age group. I'm thinking depression survivors.

    Thanks. I am a bit of a push over.
    I had no idea there were so many like Ruth till I wrote this. Amazing.

    Hay, check out those musty books now. Might be a gold mine there.
    I'm leaning towards the Depression also.

    Reader Wil,
    I totally agree Wil. I could never the chance that the person was truly in need. I enjoy sleeping too much.

    Sweet Virginia Breeze,
    Banking was an education wasn't it? Too bad it didn't pay anything.

    Thank you. I think you ought to do that post. We don't hear enough positive things and that she was just great. Need more like her.

    Ah, but you should. Bankers are full of stories. People around their money are always a little bit different.

    turquoisemoon ,
    We had a bunch of stinky ones too but I don't recall any rich ones. At least you know he didn't spend his money on soap.

    Oregon gifts,
    Thanks Kathy, I'm glad you think so. I am pretty sure she and I broke even on blessings.

    I once found a twenty in a book at a church rummage sale. Didn't know who to give it back to so I gave it to the church. Wonder how many of the other books had money in them. People do hide their money in odd places.

    Lynda G.
    Thank you. Glad you liked it.

    Retired English Teacher,
    What ever her reasons, you are probably right and a fear of the future was a main reason.

    Linda Starr,
    Only problem, how would she ever get to it. I'm sure she was very insecure.

    Thanks. I guess you could call the way she paid her bills, a self imposed senior discount. You may be right, we might not have been the only ones.

    Thank you. Glad you enjoyed. I never know if what interests me will interest anyone else.

    Thanks and I think you are right. I am pretty sure we got more out of the transaction than she did. Giving does feel good.

  23. Cool story. How nice that it was your desk she headed for.

  24. Your description of Ruth was wonderfully alive. I would have known her if I'd bumped into her on the street. I think that's magnamnious of you to cover the old broad for two years. You were so generous to her.
    Love and peace

  25. I relly enjoyed readin gthis. My first thought about the money in the wall was "Thank God she didn't have mice!!" from my experence with vending machines - dollar bills make nice nesting material. Yuo were good to that old woman. The fact that it made you feel good to know she appreciated your help shows that you are a caring besides generous woman. She smiles down on you from Up There!

  26. Linda Myers,
    Oh, if I didn't get her, the others would have. They would never volunteer but they came thru when it counted.

    Thank you. If no other way, you would have recognized her musty smell.
    I really had no choice. I do love to sleep nights.

    Thank you so much for stopping by and I am glad you enjoyed your visit.
    You know, I thought of mice also. They do love to nest in paper but as far as I know, they didn't make a dent in the money.

  27. Who knows what goes through folks' minds!!

  28. A lonely old lady and each month you made her day. Your charity was noble. The good feeling was well deserved in your case. Your description of her makes me think of the many woman I saw in my youth who fir that description. The dress code has changed a lot since then.

  29. another one of your lovely, heartwarming stories.
    There are some weird and wonderful humans about and it's good that you were able to accept them for who they were/are.

  30. Oh how funny, Patti.... That woman may have done that to everyone she 'owed' money to... Wonder??????? How else could she have saved that much money???? I love that story --and am glad that your group could help her a little....

  31. I've really enjoyed your well written story about Ruth! You have to wonder what she planned to do with the money, tho. Tear down the walls someday or what? It's scary to think that money could have been lost for all time.

  32. You surprise me often - this story is one of those times. I really liked the story and Ruth. Kindness is never a bad thing. Good job!

  33. You know it is funny, Patti...My reaction was not that she had conned you all but that she really didn't realize she had that kind of money, at all. I have seen it before---Older people become afraid that they won't have anything and so they squirrel it away, but don't even remember that they have done that, AND, more than that, they do not really feel that they have any money. I had a friend like that...She lived very frugally; always saying "I can't afford that" or "I just don't have the money to do so-and-so..." When she died, it turned out she had a lot more money than anyone had imagined...And I swear, she truly did not feel that she had any money....!
    I love that you all rose to the occasion, my dear Patti...And that it meant a lot to her! In a way, that is all that really matters, to my way of thinking.

  34. Wow! What an amazing story. You are such a wonderful writer. I loved reading this. It restores my faith in the kindness of people. Well... actually the generous outpouring of love and aid to Japan at this critical time really warms my heart, too.

  35. Oh my what a story! And she didn't tell her son about the stash?

  36. Bettyl
    And that is the truth.

    Thank you. We just did what we couldn't help doing. Some how I think there were more of them then than now or maybe I am just not looking.

    There sure is variety out there isn't there. Keeps our world from being boring.
    Thank you.

    Gosh, do you think she had a racket? Wonder if it would work for me when I get my car repaired:)) This white hair has to be good for something besides cheaper movie tickets.LOL

    Thanks so much. I do believe it was like a security blanket for her. She just had to know it was there.

    Thanks GQ. Hope I can keep surprising you.

    Pretty sure she was a Depression survivor and feared being with out money.I am sure you are right however and that she had no idea how much she had squirreled away. Both of us were winners in that exchange.

    Thank you so much. The Japanese people are amazing me every day with the way they are handling a horrific disaster. I do hope we are paying attention for they set the bar high but definitely reachable.

    He was as surprised as everyone else and it seems the money he sent her went into the walls also.
    Thank you.

  37. Awww, good for you. I would have done the same thing! ..although it does make one think twice; about those individuals that beg on the side of the road? Ummm, perhaps too skeptical?

    I also want to thank you for cheering for my team for March know now I will hold you to it :) No waffling at all,,,

  38. I think you met my grandmother....not exactly, she had a bank account but stopped buying Dove soap, when it increased $.05 one time. "highway robbery"

  39. I love this story, Patti! You really paint such a vivid picture of Ruth. It's interesting to try to understand how and why that money ended up hidden for so long. Makes me wonder if she just forgot about it.

  40. What a wonderful story! You so described Ruth I felt as though I was sitting in your bank and knew what would happen. Good job! It's amazing how the survival instinct kicks in. Ruth figured you gals had jobs, nice clothes and companionship. She lived with fears of another Depression and played the cards in her favor. I think it was very nice of you to make up the difference, not just the money, but the pleasure the charade gave her. It was all she had, really...and sad. You're a really good person, Patti!!!

  41. Tracy,
    Of course you realize I still won't be watching but just rooting.
    Go Tar Heels.

    Did your grandmother live in Florida:)) From what I am hearing, "Ruth" lived in a lot of families. Be sure and check your Grandmother's walls.

    Thanks so much. Pretty sure she knew it was there but probably had no idea how much was there. Once dropped behind the wall, it was gone.

    Thank you, all of us tellers were victims or perhaps beneficiaries of Ruth. I just hope that stash gave her pleasure or at least comfort.

  42. That is too funny! I bet she chuckled all the way home, it probably was one of the few bright spots in her life.

    I am 100% certain that would not happen anywhere today, as now a days banks want to charge you for walking in the door.

  43. Iowa Gardening Woman,
    Aren't there even some banks that charge you to talk to an actual person? I miss the old days.