Wrong num­ber, Ruth, gi­ant swan

Un­ex­pected phone call brings con­nec­tion

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - OUT TOWN - SEY YOUNG

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.

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