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Patti Clark was thrilled to see her mother’s face again, after the ID card was accidentally donated inside a handbag. Photo: ALICE PARMINTER

Social media solves Mother’s Day mystery

A hairdresser, a handbag and a photograph – it was a mystery that had a Thames Facebook group enthralled, and once again proved the power of social media.

Early in May, Whangārei resident Morgan McCaskill pulled her newly-purchased secondhand handbag out of her closet. To her surprise, there was something in the back pocket – a 1948 identification card from the San Francisco Bureau of Customs, along with a photograph of a woman on an elephant.

Morgan had bought the bag from the Hospice Op Shop, when she visited Thames in February.

“I thought, ‘there must be a bit of a story behind these’,” Morgan said.

“Who was this woman, why does she have a pass from the San Francisco ports?”

Morgan, a Hospice nurse, was keen to reunite the pictures with their owner, so she jumped on Facebook. The post got shared to the Thames community page by her cousin Tyla, a Thames hairdresser.

Meanwhile, Thames resident Patti Clark was waiting for her sister to call from America. It was Mother’s Day, and they were about to resume a conversation about Kathryn, their mother, who had passed away in the 70s. Patti checked her phone.

“The only reason I was scrolling mindlessly was because I was expecting my sister to call back any minute,” she said.

“Otherwise, I rarely do that.”

Next thing she knew, she was face-to-face with her mother. 

This original San Francisco Ports ID card was discovered in a second-hand purse. Photo: SUPPLIED

“I literally almost dropped my phone. It was so startling,” Patti said.

“And I was like, ‘oh my God’, and I just hit the comments. ‘That’s mine! That’s my mother’!”

Patti recognised the poster instantly – Tyla was her hairdresser. A flurry of messages followed between Tyla, Morgan, and the extremely thankful Patti, and the misplaced mementos were soon on their way back home.

“I’m grateful beyond measure. I’m grateful for caring people and you know, Morgan could have thrown it away,” Patti said.

“My husband and I have been downsizing, and I put all this stuff in a bag and just took it to the op shop. [It was] an old purse that I got as a gift 40 years ago that I rarely ever use.”

Patti’s mother was just 22 when the ID card photo was taken, at her first job in San Francisco.

“She got this job with an import export company as a translator,” Patti said, “because she spoke Italian, Spanish, French, English, a spattering of German too I think.

“It’s such a special keepsake, and it’s the original one, embossed, with her signature.”

The other photo, with the elephant, was of Patti herself.

The lost photo of Patti riding an elephant. Photo: SUPPLIED

Morgan said she was pleased to be able to reunite Patti with the keepsakes.

“The nature of work that I do with people who are losing loved ones fairly often… it was really wonderful to be able to keep some of that memory alive for Patti,” she said.

And it was a good reminder for people donating goods:

“Always check things before you donate them to the op shop”.

When the photos turned up in Patti’s mailbox a week later, she was on her way to get her hair done at Tyla’s salon.

“There’s too many coincidences for it to be just a coincidence in my world view, there’s something else happening here,” Patti said.

“[When I saw the post] I really felt in my heart just such a presence of my mother. It was Mother’s Day – my mother died when I was 16.

“I don’t have many pictures of her, and so that picture is so precious. But I hadn’t seen it in decades.”

By ALICE PARMINTER, Public Interest Journalism funded by NZ on Air.