August 29, 2012

Bill Nemitz: In Abbie's world, a purse belongs to its rightful owner

By Bill Nemitz

Put yourself in 8-year-old Abbie Jacobson's place.

Today's poll: Finding cash

Do you think most Maine residents are honest and would turn in $4,000 cash if they found it?



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Abbie Jacobson, 8, of Scarborough, found more than $4,000 that belonged to Ra Rim, a immigrant from Cambodia, who lost the money while shopping. Abbie’s first response was to find the owner of the money.

John Patriquin / Staff Photographer

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Ra Rim’s purse that 8-year-old Abbie Jacobson found and returned contained more than $4,000.

John Patriquin / Staff Photographer

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You're walking into Sam's Club in Scarborough when you spot something unusual on the ground.

It's a small, green money purse. Scattered around it are several $100 bills. Inside the purse, you find several pieces of heirloom gold jewelry, a debit card and a large wad of $100 bills rolled up tightly and secured with a rubber band.

Your first thought?

While you ponder that one, here's Abbie's:

"We need to find who dropped it," recalled the soon-to-be third-grader from Scarborough this week. "Because I wouldn't want to lose all that money and have someone take it. It was a lot of money!"

Now put yourself in Ra Rim's place.

You came to Maine from Cambodia just less than two years ago. You speak no English and are about to travel back to your homeland to visit relatives when your savings for the journey – $4,202, to be exact – vanish during a day of last-minute errands.

"I felt like I was going to faint," said Ra in Cambodian while her daughter, Chansatha Meas, translated. "I felt like there was no hope I would ever get it back."

It happened in the spring. You're reading about it now because Rosemarie De Angelis, who teaches English to immigrant students (including Chansatha) at Southern Maine Community College, correctly pegged it in an email last week as "a great story about the good in people – in a time when that feels rare."

For the Jacobsons – parents John and Jenn with Abbie in tow – it began as a routine trip to Sam's. Jenn was already in the store while Abbie and her father parked the car and hurried to catch up.

That's when Abbie looked down at the sidewalk just outside the store's entrance and spotted the little green purse overflowing with cash. More cash than Abbie had ever seen.

A stroke of pure luck? A slush fund for the mall? Not in Abbie's world.

"She never asked if we could keep it – not even just in passing," recalled John. "It was all about, 'Whose is it? Where are they? How can we find them?' "

Added Abbie, "I just felt sad for the people who lost it."

John looked inside the purse, which also contained a small cache of Cambodian currency, and saw the debit card from University Credit Union bearing the name "Ra Rim."

Rushing into the store, Abbie and John quickly found Jenn and told her what had happened. Abbie then made a beeline for a young Cambodian man she'd noticed entering Sam's just ahead of them.

He was Ra's son, Titya. Unfortunately, Titya wasn't with his mother at the time and, because he speaks no English, had no clue what this frantic American family was talking about as they asked if he knew anyone who may have lost a ton of money.

(Ra would not realize until she got home later than evening that somewhere in her travels – she wasn't sure where – she'd dropped the purse while putting it back in a money belt she wore under her blouse.)

So there stood Abbie, John and Jenn with $4,000-plus in cold, untraceable cash and ... not even a twinge of temptation?

"I spent it 30 times over in about 10 seconds," admitted Jenn with a chuckle.

"Hey, we're human like everyone else," echoed John, a landscape architect for Harriman in Portland.

It would have been so easy to just pocket the money – the Jacobsons have had their share of medical issues recently and the bills have piled up. But to appreciate how far that would diverge from this family's moral compass, consider how Abbie processed this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Abbie Jacobson, 8, of Scarborough sits next to her now-close friend Ra Rim, an immigrant from Cambodia, at Southern Maine Community College on Monday, along with Abbie’s dad John Jacobson, left, Ra’s husband San Meas and her daughter Chansatha.

John Patriquin / Staff Photographer


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Today's poll: Finding cash

Do you think most Maine residents are honest and would turn in $4,000 cash if they found it?



View Results