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My View: Genuine Italian wallet has a mystical quality

By Tom O’Malley

There are 12 inches in every foot, and 5,280 feet in every mile. As I looked at the moon last night, I was sure we were separated by 240,000 miles and Neil Armstrong’s footprints are still sitting right where he left them. These are the facts, and facts are the bricks in the walls of reason. They are strong, sure and comforting. I have always relied on them. That is until I bought a new wallet.

It all started so innocently. I was planning a trip to Assisi. My wife, Meg, who has been to Italy, was an immense help preparing my journey. The wisdom of her experience poured from her heart and transformed my suitcase into an efficient pack made light for travel. And for this I am eternally grateful. But that all ended when she looked at my wallet and sneered, “You need to replace this miserable lump of leather.”

My wallet was quite old, stretched and warped beyond its years. Still, we had traveled so long together it had become a familiar. Something more than just a wallet. Something I was reluctant to dismiss. I gave her my puppy face.

“OK. Take that old money bag with you, but promise you will buy a new one in Italy.”

I ceremoniously placed my hand over my heart and promised I would.

Three days later I was walking the crooked streets of Assisi, enjoying the music of the language, the spectacular architecture, the wine, the song. This is probably as close as you can get to the magic of a medieval city. My head was spinning with the joy of the place.

Then I reached for my wallet to pay for a cappuccino and remembered my solemn oath to purchase a new one. Walking in the afternoon light down Via Santa Croce, I spotted a leather shop. The door creaked after I twisted the burnished knob. An old woman sat knitting in the corner while a younger man greeted me in the half light. “Bene sera,” he said. Right there I knew it was fate that brought me here as those were the only words I knew in Italian.

“Bene,” I replied.

He smiled. “Americano?”

“Si. Yes.”

He had closely cropped brown hair and thick glasses that seemed to magnify his eyes out of all proportion. “Then we shall speak English so that you will be comfortable.”

“Yes. Thank you. I am here to replace my wallet.”

I pulled my old one from my back pocket.

“You have come to the right place.” He pointed to a nearby shelf.

His mother sat silent at her sewing as I sorted through the merchandise.

“Take your time, my friend.” The way he said friend rang with the sound of sincerity. Yes. We were friends. Finally I pointed to the one I wanted.

“You have good sense,” he smiled, handing it over to me. “It has been waiting a long time for you.”

It seemed just right.

“May this wallet be always full and your heart ever generous.”

“Yes,” I laughed thinking of Chaucer’s poem to his purse.

Ever since that day, his words come back to me like a chant. The wallet is light and thin, and I never keep more than a few dollars inside.

Even so, every time I open it, there always is just enough cash to cover my purchase. Always. It just defies logic. Of course there are reasons my wallet remains full. It could be my wife is slipping in some extra cash. It could be I put more money inside than I remember.

Still. There are 12 inches in a foot and 5,280 feet in a mile. But when I reach for my new wallet, I enter the boundless realm of generosity spun with the ancient warmth of a late Italian afternoon.

Tom O’Malley, a Canisius College professor living in Buffalo, greatly enjoyed his visit to Italy.
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