When Barbara Bennett died in 2005, her husband of almost 50 years put a picture of her taken in 1987 in his wallet.
It remained there for eight years. Living alone in senior housing at Highland Park mill, Joe Bennett looked at it each day. When he would sit down to eat at a restaurant, he would pull it out.
He would smile and sometimes show that picture to a waitress. Once in awhile, the 77-year-old Korean War veteran would look at the picture and cry.
In that photo, Barbara is holding hands with another man.
“The pope!” said Joe Bennett. “She was right there with the pope. She loved the pope, Pope John Paul II. He came to Columbia in 1987, and we were there at St. Peter’s Catholic Church and he held hands with my wife.”
Bennett remembers watching the pope hold hands with and talk with his best girl.
And being so happy for her.
“I was helping with the crowd when she met the pope,” Bennett said. “There was so much media, they kept knocking out the power.”
Over the weekend, though, Bennett lost that wallet. He stopped for sandwiches at the HoneyBaked Ham store, paid and left. The next morning, he went to IHOP for breakfast, reached for his wallet to pay – and found nothing but an empty pocket.
“I didn’t have a nickel,” Bennett said. “The manager, he was so nice, he told me not to worry about it. But I didn’t just lose the money. I lost the picture.”
Bennett’s sister, Frances Homesley, helped Bennett look through his apartment, his car, his clothes, hoping the wallet could be found. She talked to people at the restaurants, looked around in the parking areas, but so far has had no luck.
The cards were all stopped and canceled to avoid fraud or theft.
“I turned his house over looking for that wallet,” Homesley said. “There was money in there, and all his cards for Medicare and everything else. But that picture – he’s had it in there so long.”
Bennett told his neighbors in the apartments in the old mill that was refurbished into senior housing, other family members– anybody else he could think of – with hopes that the wallet will turn up.
He has another photo of his wife with the pope, similar to the one he lost but larger and framed.
But the small one in the wallet was close to him and his heart.
“I didn’t care about the cards in there, anything. I just hope somebody finds my wallet with that picture in it,” Bennett said. “I miss that wife of mine.”
Bennett closed his eyes and remembers his wife of almost five decades.
“Wow, what a beauty!” he said. “We never fought, not once. She was just lovely.”
He opened his eyes.
“I remember the first time I saw her; I knew that I was gonna marry her,” Bennett said. “I was workin’ at a service station. Didn’t think she’d think much of me. I loved her until she died. I love her still.”
Bennett, in a motorized wheelchair, a man who has survived heart attacks and is now living with Parkinson’s disease, looked at so many other photos he has of his wife.
There are photos in which she is dressed up, and there is the large framed one of her with the pope.
But the one picture that was closest to him – the one he could look at while sitting in the booth at the IHOP – is gone.
“I miss her,” Bennett said. “And now, the picture is gone.
“It’s like I lost her all over again.”
Want to help?
Joe Bennett’s wallet was last used Saturday in a restaurant in The Market shopping center on Cherry Road. Anyone who finds it can call the Rock Hill Police Department at 803-329-7200.