A phone prank led to two rings
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?”
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.