One lost wallet lets two men find a nice memory


February 27, 1993|By DAN RODRICKS

This is about two men who met for the first time in a convenience store in Baltimore a couple of weeks ago, and what happened when their paths finally crossed.

"It was a minor miracle in today's world," one of the men said.

"This has to do with how I was raised," said the other. "I never got far away from my raisin'."

This is about James Harley and Joseph Young.

Meet Harley first.

He's 73 years old, wise and healthy, a self-employed, air-conditioning and heating mechanic who drives a 1980 Buick and carries a beeper so customers who need their oil burners fixed can reach him. He's an active member of First Apostolic Faith Church, visits the sick and the old and the handicapped, in hospitals and in their homes. He prays with them. Between his work and his one-man ministry, Harley puts in a long day.

He grew up in North Carolina. His father died when he was 11. His mother took him out of school during fifth grade to work on the family farm.

Years later, after World War II, he arrived in Baltimore. He worked in a supermarket, worked as a janitor, started his own janitorial service, went bankrupt, started drinking, stopped drinking, started from scratch again, went into business for himself again.

He's had a life of hard physical labor, most of it with a right hand left gnarled by a long-ago hunting accident.

Joseph Young is 70 years old, and he's listed in "Who's Who in America."

He grew up in Hagerstown and, after military service in World War II -- he was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart -- he attended Dartmouth College. He received his law degree from the University of Virginia in 1951. That same year he was admitted to the Maryland bar and, by 1958, he was a partner in the prestigious Baltimore law firm of Piper & Marbury.

He volunteered his time to numerous organizations, including the American Cancer Society and the Legal Aid Society.

In 1971, the president of the United States appointed Young a judge of the U.S. District Court in Baltimore, where he still serves as a senior judge. You can bet that, in more than 22 years on the bench, Joseph Young has heard it all -- tales of fraud, extortion, corruption, robbery -- greed in all forms.

One night a couple of weeks ago, the judge's wallet fell out of the pocket of his tennis warm-up jacket. It landed on the parking lot of the Royal Farm Store, 41st Street at Falls Road in Hampden. The judge drove off.

Moments later, James Harley, dressed in his navy blue work clothes, stepped out of the store and onto the parking lot. He spotted the wallet seconds before a young man backed his car over it.

Harley figured the kid in the car was trying a cloak-and-snatch maneuver, hoping to grab a wallet that wasn't his.

Harley had a trick of his own. He started fidgeting and slapping at his hips. He leaned down, pointed to the wallet under the car, then spoke to the young man behind the steering wheel.

"You want to pull up, please? I dropped my wallet," Harley said.

The young man grumbled, did as he was asked, then took off.

"I'm no dummy," Harley said the other day. "All my life, you never found me around anyone dumber than I am; two dummies can't teach each other anything."

He looked through the wallet and found the name of Joseph Young. He telephoned Young's house and arranged a rendezvous later that night back at the Royal Farm Store.

Harley had other options, of course. But, instead of keeping the wallet and the money inside, he found himself back at the convenience store about 10 p.m. And he handed the wallet back to this stranger, Joseph Young.

"He told me he was a federal judge," Harley said. "He was quite moved that I'd go to the trouble. He said, 'I can't believe this. I'm going to have to change my ways of thinking about some things.' He gave me the money in the wallet, $41, said he wanted me to have it."

"You don't expect things like that to happen in this age," Young recalled. "I said, 'I could have dropped this wallet and never seen it again.' I guess it's a minor miracle in today's world."

"Even if I'd kept the money and mailed the wallet back, I would have felt dishonest," Harley said. "See, I love to go home and sleep at night. That's what it's about."

"He told me that if I ever ran for office, he'd help with my campaign," Young said.

"He told me he hoped our paths would cross again," said Harley.

"I do believe that most people are good," Young added. "It's nice to be reassured."

"My mother's name was Annie Harley," James Harley said. "And this is how my mother raised me, and I never got far away from my raisin'."

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