Christmas in Iverhill: The Picture and the Wallet

NOTE: To read Chuck Miller’s book “The Robins of Iverhill: A Minor League Fairy Tale,” as well as the short stories in the “Christmas in Iverhill” series, visit this link.

Monday, December 24, 1973.

“Mom, you have to trust me. This is so easy.”

“But I don’t understand what you’re doing,” Louise Martin complained, as she watched her son Lloyd hook up the coaxial cable to the television.  “Why can’t I just use the rabbit ears?”

“Because mom, this will allow you to watch more television shows – and with better reception,” Lloyd replied.  “I want to watch more than two television stations when I come to visit you, and this new cable antenna system means we won’t have to worry about the crummy television reception in the Adirondacks.”

Lloyd waited for the next argument his mother might suggest – that there wasn’t anything worth watching on television anyway, that he only visited from California during the holidays, that as long as she could watch Table of the Lord on Sunday mornings, she was happy – but Louise remained silent.  Besides, he didn’t want to spend the holiday weekend arguing over television reception and what to watch.

“Was that the doorbell?” Louise asked.

“I didn’t hear anything.”

“I’m sure I heard the doorbell. Honey, why don’t you take a break from working behind the television, and go see who’s at the door.”

“Mom, I’m almost done – ” Lloyd tried to finish his sentence, but it was no use. He didn’t get the ten seconds of silence from his mother, so he decided to take his own personal time-out.

As Lloyd walked from the living room to the front hallway, he finally heard the doorbell – a faint buzzing noise, a different tone from the strong chimes he remembered from childhood. Mom must have had the doorbell replaced, Lloyd thought, as he tried to recall the sound of the old chimes.

Lloyd opened the front door.

Standing on the stoop was postman Fred Kalmacky, who still delivered mail throughout Iverhill’s North Main Avenue neighborhood, as he did when Lloyd was old enough to answer the front door for the first time.

“Merry Christmas – Lloyd Martin, as I live and breathe. It’s so good to see you again.”

“Hi Mr. Kalmacky. Merry Christmas to you. How have you been?”

“Doing great. Just a couple years toward retirement, and then me and Mrs. Kalmacky are retiring to Arizona. Your mother tells me you’re living in California now?”

“Yes, just outside of Los Angeles.”

Kalmacky’s hand picked through his mail pouch, looking for something special.

“You know, Lloyd, remember when I used to give you these stamps on Christmas Eve?”

Lloyd smiled. “You still carry Christmas Seals stamps in your bag?”

“Oh yes,” Kalmacky replied, pulling out a sheet of perforated stamps from his sack. “I still give them to the neighborhood kids, God knows I buy plenty of them to help support charity. I don’t know if you still collect them or not…”

Lloyd smiled. “Actually, I still have the ones you gave me since I was a kid.”

“Is that a fact? Well, here’s another sheet of stamps for your collection.  Look, they’ve got the Twelve Days of Christmas on this set.  Merry Christmas.”

“Well, Merry Christmas to you too, Mr. Kalmacky,” Lloyd replied, taking the stamps. “How did you know I still collect these? And for that matter, how did you know I would be here this weekend?”

Kalmacky smiled. “Oh, Louise told me you were coming in for Christmas, so I purchased an extra set just for you.”

“Well thank you, Mr. Kalmacky – that was very nice of you.”

“Not a problem. Well, back to my route. Merry Christmas – oh, wait. I knew I forgot something.”

Kalmacky opened his pouch again, this time pulling out a medium sized padded envelope. “I knew I rang the doorbell for something. This is for Louise. And I need to have her sign for it, it’s got a delivery confirmation slip.”

“She’s kind of busy now – can I sign for it?”

Kalmacky looked at the package, then checked the specific regulations. “She’s busy, right?”

“Yeah. I’m trying to hook up a new antenna system to her TV set.”

“Oh, new television stations.  That’ll keep her busy for weeks. Go ahead and sign for the package.”

“Thanks,” Lloyd said, scribbling his name on the printed form.

Lloyd and Kalmacky exchanged Christmas greetings one more time, then the letter carrier walked away from the front stoop, still carrying his sack of greeting cards, magazines and bill payment notices.

As Lloyd walked back into the house and closed the door, he noticed the small package had no return address. And the mailing address listed on the package was not Louise Martin, but to Mrs. Jonathan Martin.

This made Lloyd nervous. The last thing his mother needed on Christmas Eve was another reminder of her late husband – Lloyd’s late father. Christmas was always a rough time of year for Louise Martin. Lloyd knew that no matter how many times he came from California to spend December with his mother, he knew the holiday never brought good memories.

It was ten years ago on Christmas Day, Lloyd remembered, when he nearly lost his entire family.  Christmas, 1963.  That was the year he received for Christmas the one thing he always wanted – a Lionel train set. Just what every 13-year-old boy wants for Christmas.  And he was excited.

After thanking his parents and running upstairs with the train and track, he put together an entire circular layout in his bedroom and ran his new locomotive around the track. Oblivious to the thought of any other presents Santa Claus might have brought, Lloyd played all day with his new train set – rearranging the track so that the train traveled under his bed; drawing a big NYC on the boxcar so that it would resemble the New York Central trains that rode past Red Pine Road on their way to Magedoma Lumber.  He remembered using his sister Margaret’s dollhouse for a passenger station.  All day he played with that train set.

He was still playing with the trains when his mother asked him to come down so they could get in the car and visit Grandma. Although he did love visiting his Grandma (and receiving a shiny quarter from her if he was a good boy and caused no trouble during the visit), this time he wanted to play with his new trains. After much pleading, he got his wish. His parents and Margaret would go to Grandma’s; he could stay home and play with his new trains.

Lloyd was still playing with his trains when someone rang the doorbell. Even though he was so engrossed in his new toy, the loud doorbell chimes distracted him long enough to go downstairs. At the door was his Aunt Janice, who told him to immediately get dressed and bundle up for a trip.

He did as was told, taking off his full-body pajamas and putting on some play clothes. As he put on his coat and mittens, he thought Aunt Janice had arrived to take him to Grandma’s house, where the rest of his family were waiting for him with more Christmas presents.

Instead, Aunt Janice and Lloyd drove to Otswego County Medical Center. Lloyd didn’t understand. Why were they going there?

Inside the lobby, he heard two police officers talking to his mother about what had happened. Something about a drunk driver causing a three-car accident. Many of the injured were taken to Otswego County Medical Center, the hospital closest to the accident scene.

He heard the doctors talking about the little girl in the white coat who died in the car crash. She was barely seven years old, and so small and quiet that the rescue workers almost didn’t know she was in her car seat. Lloyd found out later that the impact of the car crash ejected Margaret from her improperly-buckled child carrier in the back seat, flinging her face-first into the dashboard. She never even had a chance to cry out.

Lloyd’s father was also gravely injured in the car wreck. Jonathan Martin was already sick and wheezing from the three packs of cigarettes he smoked every day; the tar and nicotine coating the sawdust that was already trapped in his lungs from his years at Magedoma Lumber. Louise visited her husband every night for the next two months, staying with him until visiting hours ended, and then asking the nurse or orderly to let her stay a few minutes longer. Two months later, Jonathan Martin died in his sleep, the first time in two months that the pain of his life could no longer hurt him.

Eventually Lloyd and his mother learned how to cope with the holidays when they arrived. On Christmas Eve, Lloyd was allowed to open one present. The next day, December 25th, was set aside as a day of remembrance in the Martin household – both for the birth of Christ and for the death of Margaret. On Christmas evening, Lloyd could open the rest of his presents if he wanted.

Lloyd looked at the package. It was addressed to his mother… but maybe she wouldn’t mind if he actually took a look inside – to make sure it wasn’t a package of junk mail.   He sat down on the couch and started picking away at the package’s brown paper wrapping. The wrapping fell to the floor as Lloyd peeled it apart.

Inside the package was a brown leather wallet, well-worn and creased. Lloyd could see paper money inside, mostly tens and twenties.  He immediately looked for some identification – and found a driver’s license inside.

Jonathan Martin, 23 North Main Avenue, Iverhill, New York.


Louise walked in from the kitchen. “What’s wrong, dear? Who was at the door?”

Lloyd hid the wallet under a couch pillow before his mother could enter the room. “That was the mailman. I had to sign for a package for you.”

Louise looked at the floor, noticing the pile of wrappings. “Where is it?”

“Sit down, Mom. You’re not going to believe this.”

Louise sat on the white chair next to the couch. “What’s wrong?”

“Mom,” Lloyd said, pulling the wallet from under the couch pillow, “have you seen this before?”

Louise’s fingers took the wallet from Lloyd’s grasp. “Oh my God. This can’t be.”

“Mom, is this Dad’s wallet?”

She opened the billfold and saw the driver’s license. Within ten seconds, the wallet began to shake in Louise’s hands. Lloyd could see her mother start to cry, and got up to get her a tissue.

“Oh my God…” Louise put the wallet down on the coffee table and began to cry, taking a tissue from Lloyd and dabbing her eyes.

Lloyd picked up the wallet. “Is this Dad’s?” he asked.

Louise sobbed, but nodded her head slowly.

He opened the wallet, staring at the contents in the wallet’s leather pockets. “Look at all this.  A laundry ticket from a dry cleaner’s on North Main Avenue – didn’t that place close down a couple of years ago?  And a card from – when did Iverhill ever have an Elks Club?” Lloyd remarked, pulling each card out of the wallet and examining it as if it were a curiosity from another time.

Louise smiled. “I can’t believe it. I never thought I’d see him again,” she said as she patted the wallet, her fingers gently touching the worn frayed leather edges.


“Oh, I mean – I mean the wallet. Where did it come from?”

Lloyd fumbled through the pile of packaging on the floor. “There’s no return address – just this envelope from – give me a second to read this – it’s from a church in New York City.”

“Maybe they have a thrift store down there,” Louise mused, “and somebody found the wallet in a pair of pants, and send it to me.”

“There’s money in the wallet, too.”


“Yes,” Lloyd said, pulling out some of the green currency, “and it looks like a lot of it.”

With that, Lloyd removed the bills from the wallet, and began counting them.

“How much money is there?”

“Hold on, Mom, I’m still counting,” Lloyd said, calculating every $10 and $20 as he counted each bill.

“There’s at least $200 in this wallet – 220 – 230 – 235 – 240 – 245 – 6 – 7 – 8 – 9 – two hundred fifty dollars,” he said, placing the pile of money on the table.

Louise picked up the wallet, looking again at the driver’s license photo contained inside.

“Mom, this is a lot of money for Dad to have in his wallet.”

Lloyd looked at his mother for a response, but there was none. Louise was holding the wallet tightly in her fingers, and tears welled in her eyes.



“Are you all right?”

“Yes, honey, I’m all right,” she said, her attention still focused on the leather billfold.

“Mom – this is a lot of money,” Lloyd repeated.

“What – oh yes, the money,” Louise replied. “I think this may have been your father’s bonus money from Magedoma Lumber. I can’t remember, but I think he had just been promoted that year, and this was part of a bonus and a raise. The night before, he went to the toy store and bought you that train set you always wanted. Remember?”

“Yes,” Lloyd recalled. “Is that train set still in the attic?”

“It might be.”

“I almost forgot about that old train set. I may want to bring it home this year, if it’s still in the attic.”

Louise stared at the wallet again. “What’s the earliest memory you have of your father?”

Lloyd thought for a moment. “I can remember the day he took me to the circus.  Back when the circus came to Iverhill.  We went into one of the tents, and we ate popcorn and watched the clowns and the trapeze artists.”

“He loved the circus.  He used to tell me about how much fun you had when you went there, and that he was going to take Margaret to the circus when she was old enough.”

Lloyd picked up some of the currency. “I miss Dad and Margaret,” he said.

“I do too, honey,” his mother said.

“Mom – I just noticed something,” Lloyd said.

“What, dear?”

“Well, the car crash was ten years ago, right?”

Louise nodded.

“And everything in the wallet – the laundry ticket, that driver’s license – those are all at least ten years old, right?”

Louise nodded again.

Lloyd held up a $20 from the pile. “Then why isn’t this money ten years old?”

“What – I don’t understand.”

“Look at this $20, Mom – it looks like it just came out of the bank yesterday.  In fact,” Lloyd said as he fished through the pile of money – “here’s a $10 and two $5 bills – and they look fresh, too.”

Louise took some of the money from Lloyd’s hand. “He loved you very much,” she whispered softly. “Did you know we first met at Magedoma Lumber?”

Lloyd, who was picking through the wallet at that moment, looked up at his mother. “No,” he said, “I didn’t know that. You never told me how you two met.”

“It’s rather funny – I had been in the secretarial pool at the lumber yard since 1940, and he worked in the processing areas. We probably worked together for two years before we ever met face to face. It was at the Magedoma Lumber picnic in 1942, and he was sitting at a picnic table all by himself – he looked so lonely, I thought I’d at least join him at the table and say hi. Well, that company picnic led to some dates, and about a year later, we were married. And then you were born. He was so proud that day, and he was even prouder when Margaret was born. Everything was so wonderful back then.”

Lloyd sat, transfixed by his mother’s words. She rarely spoke of her husband or daughter, and certainly not without crying. But today, with Jonathan Martin’s wallet in clear view, Lloyd noticed a confidence in his mother’s voice.

“But Mom, this doesn’t explain why there’s new money in this old wallet.”

Lloyd and his mother spent the next twenty minutes speculating on the wallet’s journey and its mysterious contents – perhaps the wallet ended up in a thrift store, and somebody purchased it for a pittance – but that didn’t explain why Jonathan Martin’s old receipts and driver’s license were still in the wallet. Or perhaps somebody found the wallet ten years ago, packed it away for safekeeping and only found it recently – but that didn’t explain the new money inside. Lloyd asked if his mother knew how the wallet might have disappeared, but Louise thought it had been buried with her husband after he died.

“Lloyd, did you say there was a note that came with the wallet?”

“Yeah mom, it’s on the table – right over here,” Lloyd said, moving the sheet of Christmas Seal stamps that he had absent-mindedly placed over the envelope when he had unwrapped the package. After a few silent moments of anticipation, Lloyd opened the envelope and removed a single typewritten sheet of paper from inside.

“What does it say?”

Lloyd, who was reading the letter silently, looked up at his mother – then began to read the letter aloud.

. Dear Mrs. Martin:

I hope this letter, the wallet and its contents all arrive to you safely. I’ve held on to this wallet for too long and it belongs to its rightful owners.

Ten years ago, I had a job and a family.  I worked at Felton’s Used Cars on Evergreen Road, and took care of my wife and my daughter. Unfortunately, alcohol took over my life and it destroyed my employment, my family and my life. That Christmas day, I was driving on Evergreen Road and wondering how I could tell my wife that I had gotten fired from Felton’s the day before for stealing from the accountant’s office. I couldn’t tell her the truth.  I didn’t really know what truth was.

There was a car accident that day. I couldn’t figure out at first what had happened, but when I pulled up to the accident site, I overheard some of the policemen and ambulance workers talking about a drunk driver who plowed into an intersection and hit two other cars, including one car with a child inside.

In all the commotion and confusion, I saw an old leather wallet on the ground. I picked it up and, when nobody was looking, drove away with it. There was $200 in the wallet; I figured I had just won the lottery without even buying a ticket.

I should have called the police.  I should have gone to the store and bought something for my daughter, who ran away earlier that year, maybe that $200 would have brought her back and had her forgive her old man for everything I don’t remember that I did.

But as soon as I had a chance, I stopped at 9N Bar and Grille and drank till I couldn’t see straight.  And I didn’t stop for a couple of weeks. Eventually the wallet ran out of money; leaving me with a wallet that was not my property, and a hangover that was. And when my wife found out, she left me.  She thought I had been working at Felton’s the whole time.  I never worked in Iverhill again. But I didn’t care because all I wanted was another beer.

Eventually I moved downstate, and tried to find work in New York City. After five years of various jobs, I found steady work as a car salesman in Manhattan, but I couldn’t stop drinking. I used to hide my alcohol wherever I could but eventually it almost took my new job and my life.

And I realized at that moment I wasn’t driving drunk that day when the accident happened, but if I was, that could have been me behind the wheel, killing people in an alcoholic haze.

One day it became too much for me to handle. It was rough at the dealership; I couldn’t sell a single car. All I wanted to do was buy a bottle of cheap wine and make all the hurt go away. But I was out of money.

At the time, the only place I could think of that had alcohol and wasn’t a liquor store was a church. St. Timothy’s Church was right down the street, and I thought all I needed to do was go inside, find the wine they use for the Sunday services, and get drunk.

I actually found a bottle of red wine in the church, and was about to drink it when somebody tapped me on the shoulder. I didn’t dare turn around, because all I could think of was here I am, in a church after hours, drinking wine for the Sunday services.

The person tapping me on the shoulder was somebody who worked in the nearby rectory, Father Bernard. I guess he came to investigate.

I thought I was done for sure.

But Father Bernard sat down with me and explained where I was in life and that I could find a new life by going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. He even agreed to be my sponsor said he was honoring a promise somebody made to him years ago.

Well, I went to those AA meetings. And it did turn my life around. And Father Bernard was there in case I ever needed his help somebody to talk to, someone who could help when things got too tough. I’ve been clean and sober for five years now, thanks to Father Bernard. For him saving my life and turning my world around, I gave Father Bernard a Volkswagen off the used car lot said he was sending a parish kid to college upstate to Otswego County Community College and knew that a car would make a great graduation present.

I told him I came from Iverhill, and I told him for the first time about the wallet. He then sat down with me and explained that I needed to repay the harm I had caused. And part of the harm I caused was taking your money. I am truly sorry for my actions, and hope you can forgive me. To this effort, I have enclosed the $200 that was originally in the wallet, plus some extra cash as interest.

There’s another reason why I’m sending you this.  I honestly don’t have much time left on this earth.  The doctors say that all the damage I did to my liver is finally catching up with me, and I don’t have more than a few weeks.  If I do nothing else in my life, I need to make this right.  My family will never forgive me for what I did to them.  I may never see my wife or daughter again. Please do not contact me or try to locate me. Once again, I am truly sorry for holding on to your wallet and money for so long; and that this gift arrives back in your home before Christmas.

Thomas G.


Louise looked at Lloyd. Tears started to well up in her eyes, and Lloyd could tell Louise was devastated by the letter’s news.

“Mom – I’m sorry. I had no idea this had happened.”

“It’s okay,” Louise sobbed, trying to make Lloyd believe that everything would be all right just because she said it would be. She then gathered all the money off the table.

“What are you going to do with the money?”

“I don’t know… but maybe I’ll know tomorrow.”

“Mom – the letter specifically said not to contact him.”

“I’m not going to contact him,” Louise said, walking into the kitchen. “I just have to…”

She stopped. “I have to repay the debt I caused.”

December 26, 1973.

The day after Christmas, a silver-haired woman entered room 102 of the Otswego County Community Center. The patrons already in the room took little notice – they were used to seeing new faces at the biweekly meetings, and only noticed her when she asked if the group’s treasurer was in attendance that night. A few conversations later, she gave the treasurer an envelope filled with money. She then asked if she could stay and watch the meeting. The treasurer agreed, and offered her a folding chair.

Ten minutes into the meeting, she stood up and turned to the crowd. The language seemed to stick in her throat, but after a few hesitant words escaped her lips, she spoke from the heart.

“My name is Louise…”

“Hi Louise,” the audience responded.

“Ten years ago, I made a major mistake in my life. I got behind the wheel after having too much to drink, and I caused a three-car accident that killed my husband and my daughter. On Christmas Day, my actions also caused two other people in another car to die. And even though it’s been ten years since I’ve had a drink,” she paused, waiting for the inner strength to say the next few words. “I am an alcoholic. And I need help.”