Wrong number, Ruth, giant swan
Unexpected phone call brings connection
The fact my house still had a land line phone was a source of embarrassment — somewhat akin to the other fact, that in my office, there was still a Rolodex on my desk. Over the past years, the phone had primarily become the property of various telemarketers. I am pleased to report, that for the year 2016 alone, I won three trips to Orlando, eight to Branson, four satellite dishes, 13 chances to “save America” — which surprisingly could be saved easily with some of my money — and a mystery trip to an exotic resort which sounded suspiciously like Branson. In other words, the chances of me picking up that phone was rarer than the possibility of that new joint Russian-American cyber squad solving election hacking. So perhaps out of nostalgia, on that one Thursday night in my kitchen, I picked up the ringing phone and said hello.
Immediately, a warm and melodic voice asked me if Delores was there. I responded, “I think you have dialed a wrong number.” She laughed and said, “I sorta guessed that already since Delores lives by herself and has no family. My name is Ruth, by the way.” Her vivaciousness was captivating. From many conversations with my mom and aunt, I could tell Ruth was from their generation, so instead of hanging up, we began talking — which is how for the next hour a perfect stranger blessed me with the joy of a remembrance from long past when I asked her the most Southern of all questions: Where are you from?
“I grew up in St. Louis, went to school there, and met my husband Bill there,” Ruth replied. “Oh, let me tell you about that. It was early 1942, and my sister and I were volunteering at the USO canteen at Union Station. We weren’t supposed to date any soldiers, but the minute I saw Bill, that went out the window. We eloped three weeks later. We had our honeymoon at the Jefferson Hotel during Bill’s three-day pass. It was always a dream of mine to stay there one day, but I never thought it would be for that. We danced in the Gold Room — which was the most beautiful place I had ever seen, with a giant swan painted on one wall. He got assigned to Berry Field in Nashville, Tenn., and it became our home. Money was of minor concern — it was ration points for gasoline, sugar, meat, coffee and canned goods that were important. Did you know the song ‘Pretty Baby’? There was a popular ditty to it that went, ‘If you’re nervous in the Service. And you don’t know what to do. Have a baby, have a baby.’ Well, I guess we were both nervous because that’s just what happened! We moved 10 times in three years, but what I remember best was the fraternity we all shared. When your lives existed from day to day, you hung on to all the happiness you could find. Bill died 15 years ago, but anytime I miss him, I just borrow one of my memories about us and he is right there!”
Such connection is also in the work of the writer and psychiatrist Laura Archera Huxley, who observed, that at one time or another, the more fortunate among us make three startling discoveries.
Discovery No. 1: Each one of us has, in varying degree, the power to
make others feel better or worse. Discovery No. 2: Making others feel better is much more fun than making them feel worse. Discovery No. 3: Making others feel better generally
makes us feel better.
Ruth had done that with me. Her story was told in such a happy and energetic fashion that I felt blessed in the telling and was hungry to hear more. She
found joy in every detail of her life. Somehow, her memories connected with me, where I feel I can borrow them too — which is exactly what this column does.
And that land line? I finally decided, that indeed, you can get tired of too much winning and finally had it disconnected — but not before I put Ruth’s number in my cell phone
contact listing. Sorry, Rolodex.