At the end of World War II, there was an Army surplus store in downtown Columbia. I bought some canvas bags, a canteen and an olive drab-colored money belt. The belt had soft leather on the next-to-the-skin surface and had three compartments folded twice to keep paper money secure. An outer flap covered the whole thing.
I wrote my name, address and passport number under the outer flap in case it would be lost. Nancy and Walt thought it was "gross" and said, "It'll show under your blouse." But the belt was so comfortable I wore it night and day.
We had ridden our bikes over a hundred miles in Europe before Nancy put her arm around my waist and said, "What in the world have you got on?" It was the money belt, protecting our emergency cash and checks from the Columbia Savings Bank. When I showered, I rolled it into a cylinder and stuffed it into my shoe. I became quite fond of the old thing, which I mended with white thread once, on the road.
I used it again when I took seven Christian College girls on a bike tour in Europe in 1970. The next year, I took more students and chose Millie Neill, from the previous tour, to be my assistant leader. I always had that money belt with blank checks and at least $200 of my own money.
Millie, a fine rider and good mechanic, shared the responsibilities and knew where I carried the emergency funds. One day we took the ferry boat from Wales to Cork, Ireland. When I undressed for my shower that evening, my money belt was gone! I knew at once I had hung it over the top of the shower stall at the youth hostel in St. Briavels Castle because of deep water on the shower room floor. I thought I had hung it where I wouldn't forget!
While Millie and the college students went to kiss the Blarney Stone, I went to the nearest post office. "Please stamp this letter carefully with the postage needed to get it to St. Briavels Castle Youth Hostel in England without delay." The fellow assured me it would be delivered promptly,
My message to Mrs. O'Leary, the "warden's" wife, was this: "If the money belt has been turned in, please take a generous amount of money for your trouble and the postal charges and mail the rest to me at ... ," and I gave the name and address of the place where we would be in northern England 10 days later. I also gave my home address on the outside. The plan didn't work because I had no letters or packages at the specified hostel. I didn't tell Millie or the others how careless I'd been.
In October, three months later, I stopped at our rural mailbox on my way home from work and was surprised to find a blue mailer from Europe. How could it have my own handwriting on it? It was stamped "insufficient postage" and "return to sender." The Irish post office had returned it to me, in Missouri, for more Irish stamps, to get it to Mrs. O'Leary in England.
I had no hope of ever seeing that old worn out belt again, but I knew Mrs. O'Leary would enjoy the story, so I sent a note and the old well-traveled blue mailer. I had her reply in four days. She said: "You won't believe this, but we burned all of the unclaimed items the day before your letter arrived. I didn't know what that thing was, and I picked it out and tossed it aside just out of curiosity. I hadn't touched it until I received your letter!"
Then she added, "Your money and checks are on their way to Missouri."