A phone prank led to two rings

The Washington Post Sunday - - ON LOVE - BY NORA KRUG nora.krug@wash­post.com

It all be­gan with an in­no­cent joke. Anita Barnes was a ju­nior at Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity when she and her room­mate, Fran, de­cided to play a phone prank on a friend from class. This was 1966, a time when phone calls still re­tained some of their mys­tery: You couldn’t know who was call­ing — and cer­tainly not why — un­less you picked up.

For sev­eral days, Anita and Fran played their lit­tle game — di­al­ing, gig­gling and hang­ing up be­fore the voice on the other end had a chance to say any­thing.

But Anita and Fran had made a mis­take: They had mis­re­mem­bered their class­mate’s num­ber. They were, in fact, call­ing a stranger.

One day, the stranger picked up and said, “Hello” be­fore they even had a chance to gig­gle.

The joke was over. The two women de­cided they had to call back and apol­o­gize. It was a very long apol­ogy — but a very ef­fec­tive one. Af­ter two hours of talk­ing, Anita and the stranger had plans for a din­ner date.

Fran thought Anita was crazy to ac­cept, but Anita had a good feel­ing. “He sounded like a nice guy,” she says.

At the ap­pointed hour, Anita put on a brown sweater, a pleated skirt and a pair of loafers and went to meet him in front of the girls’ dorm. “Don’t get into his car if he looks bad,” Fran ad­vised Anita.

The stranger pulled up in a blue Ply­mouth Fury. He didn’t look bad. Anita got into the car. Fran hid nearby, writ­ing down the make, model and li­cense plate, just in case.

The pair headed to the Grog & Tankard on Wis­con­sin Av­enue. “We were go­ing out for pizza, and hope­fully I would come out alive,” Anita says.

She came back alive. On Sept. 10, 2019, Anita and the for­mer stranger, Roger Lowen, will cel­e­brate their 50th an­niver­sary.

At their home in Re­ston, Va., the cou­ple looks back with grat­i­tude at the mis­dial that even­tu­ally led to their mar­riage. “It was a lit­tle an­noy­ing,” says Roger, 84, but he was charmed by the apol­ogy. “That was Fran’s idea,” says Anita, 70.

Roger, who was di­vorced at the time and work­ing at the State Depart­ment, called about a week af­ter their first ren­dezvous; the cou­ple dated ca­su­ally for a few years. Anita re­calls the names of her other suit­ors. Roger re­calls only that his “were noth­ing spe­cial.”

In 1969, Roger pro­posed. “It wasn’t a down-on-your-knee kind of kind of thing,” he re­calls, look­ing at Anita with an apolo­getic smile, “Sorry.” Anita seems not to have minded — then or now. “We did it the way we did it, and it worked out per­fectly well,” she says.

The cer­e­mony, at Cedar Lane Uni­tar­ian Univer­sal­ist Church in Bethesda a cou­ple of months later, was equally ca­sual. Anita wore an orange-red shift she had found in her closet, and Roger, a sim­ple brown suit with a white shirt and a tie. Fran was there, of course, as well as Roger’s Aunt Ethel, who showed up, along with Anita’s sta­tis­tics pro­fes­sor and a few other friends, un­ex­pect­edly.

Af­ter say­ing their vows, the cou­ple were sur­prised with a small party at the home of a fam­ily friend (the orig­i­nal plan was an in­ti­mate din­ner in Ge­orge­town). There were 10 guests, hors d’oeu­vres, champagne and cake. A few weeks later, the cou­ple had another party for 70 or so peo­ple at the Na­tional Press Club.

It wasn’t un­til the fol­low­ing sum­mer that Roger met Anita’s fam­ily, who lived in Cal­i­for­nia, Wash­ing­ton state and Idaho. “They ap­proved,” she says.

To this day, nei­ther she nor Roger is fond of grand nup­tial events. “I think there’s in­verse ra­tio of the size of wed­ding and how long the mar­riage lasts,” Roger ob­serves.

Sit­ting side by side in match­ing high-back chairs in their liv­ing room, Anita and Roger ban­ter sweetly. She gen­tly fin­ishes his sen­tences, adding a bit of color here and there. “It would be bet­ter if you al­ways did what I said,” she jok­ingly re­marks at one point, “but I’ve given up on that.” He praises her cooking; she ad­mires his green thumb: “Af­ter hol­i­days, I will put poin­set­tias on the com­post heap. He brings them back in, and they flower again.”

A lovely poin­set­tia sits on a ta­ble amid the eclec­tic art and fur­nish­ings they’ve col­lected in their trav­els to­gether. In the early years of their mar­riage, Anita and Roger lived abroad — in Paris, Brus­sels, Bel­grade and else­where — for Roger’s job, be­fore set­tling back in the D.C. area.

Anita, a teacher, re­tired in 2000; Roger re­tired in 1988. He’s a long­time run­ner who still does sprint triathlons; she’s an avid quil­ter. They both en­joy spend­ing time with their four daughters (two from Roger’s pre­vi­ous mar­riage) and five grand­chil­dren.

“We take our vows se­ri­ously — es­pe­cially in sick­ness and in health,” Anita says, look­ing warmly at Roger, who helped care for her dur­ing a re­cent ill­ness.

The cou­ple does not envy young peo­ple try­ing to meet to­day. Both roll their eyes at the idea of on­line dat­ing — though Roger, for one, has a kind of ap­pre­ci­a­tion for it.

“In a cer­tain way, it’s al­most like a prank call,” he says. “Who knows what you’re go­ing to get?”

FAM­ILY PHOTO

NORA KRUG/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Roger and Anita Lowen met be­cause of a prank that Anita and her room­mate at Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity were play­ing. In 2019, the Lowens will cel­e­brate their 50th wed­ding an­niver­sary.

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