November 1, 2003
This isn't the time of year you think about running into angels, but that is just how Ruth Ann Brayfield feels about one Farmington store clerk.
Some might describe Brayfield herself as something of an angel. The Park Hills woman has multiple sclerosis, but does not let the disease overcome her. She still tries to make a difference in the world around her.
For the past three years or so she has put on garage and bake sales, as well as socked away any "unexpected" money into a small savings fund. The money buys Christmas presents for children whose names are on the angel trees at area department stores.
"I don't have a lot of money," she says, "but this is a way I can afford to help someone else out."
She recalls buying a new washer and dryer unit and getting an unexpected $40 back when she pointed out some scratches she did not notice on the unit. That money, too, went into her savings fund, Brayfield said, because it was "extra."
With so much work going into raising the money, Brayfield picks the recipients of her Christmas gifts with care.
"I look for the ones who aren't asking for anything more than a coat or some shoes," she said.
Not only do these children get the clothing they wished for, but they get toys and candy for their gift boxes, too. "They should get toys," she said. "To me, every kid needs some toys for Christmas."
This year she was working extra hard on her annual project. She had just lost a special companion, a cat named Annie.
Like her master, Annie was a pretty determined soul as well. She appeared as a kitten in Brayfield's window. The gray- and white-striped feline pressed her nose to the window and simply refused to go away. She stared at Brayfield with slate gray eyes.
"I didn't really want a cat at the time," Brayfield said. "There are strays all over the place out here. But she was a very spiritual cat. She had these beautiful eyes. I've never seen another cat like her."
Of course the cat won the contest of wills. She became Brayfield's constant companion for the next three years.
Brayfield had days where she was so tired because of her MS that she could hardly move. She would lie in a chair, suffering because of her immobility. The cat seemed to know when Brayfield needed her most and would climb into her lap, soothing her.
"She was like an angel sent from heaven," Brayfield said. "It really made me feel good that she thought enough of me to lie there in my lap like that. She really helped me through some rough days."
But now her little angel was gone.
Brayfield knew it was important to keep going, though, in spite of her loss. "This is just a trial I'm going through," she said. "It's something we all go through. You can't let it stop you."
So she went to work. She sold some extra gospel CDs she had around the house for a dollar each. She raised enough to make her first $50 of the year, and she was pretty pleased with what she had done.
"It takes me a while to make that much money," Brayfield said.
This year making money had been particularly difficult. She was too sick to put on her usual garage sale. There was a car repair to make, and she had an unexpected expense for a scooter she needed to get around sometimes.
She had been struggling for ideas to raise the "extra" money she would need for her Christmas project, so her $50 seemed a milestone.
The next day she had several errands to run. First she had to run out to her daughter's house to find a few things, then she needed to do a little shopping at Lowe's hardware store and check the size of cabinets. She folded her $50 bill into a very small square and stuck it as deep into her pocket as it would go, intending to deposit it at the bank as soon as possible.
Her daughter, Tammy, works at Lowe's, and was planning to go shopping with Brayfield after work. But Tammy was not finished yet, and Brayfield was getting tired. She headed to a nearby fast-food restaurant to wait. Before she left the hardware store, she took her cell phone out of her pocket and put it in her purse, where it would be more secure while she was sitting down at the restaurant.
The $50 bill fell to the ground as she pulled out the phone, unnoticed. Fifty dollars, lying on the ground outside a busy department store.
She spent the rest of the evening shopping at several businesses with her daughter. She did not realize the money was missing until she got ready for bed.
Out of habit, she checked her pockets, and remembered that she hadn't deposited the money. She dug into the pocket, turning it inside out. The money was gone.
She wasn't sure where she had misplaced it, but searched her car and house frantically.
She realized she must have lost it at one of the businesses she had been to during the day. If that was the case, the money was probably long gone.
She spent a sleepless night, crying. How would she make up the loss for her Christmas kids? She felt like she had let them all down.
The next morning, as soon as she got up, she called all the places she'd been to and asked if anyone had found the money. Some of the places weren't even open yet, but the managers said they would check into it and call her back if it was discovered.
Morning dragged into afternoon. Brayfield tried resting in her easy chair as she waited for a call she wasn't even sure would come. She needed to relax and get a little rest, but it was too hard. The lost money and her cat were all she could think about.
She prayed and, eventually, did begin to drift off to sleep.
If it were meant to be, then the money would either be found, or she would find a way to make up for what she'd lost, she thought.
Perhaps the money was found by someone who really needed it, she thought. She would just have to hope that was the case.
Just then, the telephone rang. Grumbling a little, she struggled up from her easy chair to answer it.
It was an employee from Lowe's. Her money had been found.
Brayfield couldn't believe it. "You'd figure, as busy as Lowe's is, that someone who found the money would keep it," she said.
"Oh, no," the caller said. "Not me. I would turn it in if I found it."
Brayfield made a computer card to send to the unknown angel who had found her money and even called the newspaper in hopes of finding out who the person was.
"I just want that person to know how much it meant to me," Brayfield said. "I would like to thank them, and let them know the money wasn't really even for me."
Brayfield went to pick up the money and found out it was not a customer who found it after all. It was a store clerk named Amanda Luebbers.
She thought the bill was a piece of trash at first.
"I went to pick it up and saw that it was money, but I thought it was just a $5 bill."
She opened it up and saw that it was a $50 bill instead.
Luebbers works two part-time jobs and is a full-time student at Mineral Area College. She could have really used the money - and that, she explains, is what prompted her most to turn it in. She knew it might not get back to the rightful owner, but she was hopeful.
"I figured whoever lost it needed it just as much as I do," she said.
Here was someone who really needed the money, Brayfield thought, yet she had made sure it got back to its owner.
"I have always believed in angels," Brayfield said. "My guardian angel
was there to find the right person to pick up my $50 or I don't think it
would have been found and turned in. I'm very thankful for what Amanda
did, and I know God is still watching out for me."
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