704 area code. Wireless caller. “Nah,” I thought. “That’s not going to be anyone I know.” But something, a divine nudge perhaps, made me pick up the home phone last Saturday afternoon.
“This is a voice from your past,” a woman’s voice said. It was Evelyn, calling from North Carolina where she now lives. We hadn’t seen or spoken to each other in 41 years.
In an almost dizzying set of circumstances, Evelyn happened upon the post I wrote in June, Missing in Action, about trying to find Ernest Samuels. In it, I mentioned that Evelyn, Ilona and I once baked and packed up a batch of cookies to ship to Ernest in Vietnam.
Evelyn told me that she does genealogy research. In a single afternoon while she had some time to herself—her husband was away on a fishing trip—she pored through records and found Ernest, something I’ve tried to do for more than 20 years without success. Then she found my number and picked up the phone. With precision and speed, she emails me his current address and phone number.
Yesterday I sent Ernest a letter. I told Evelyn that I couldn’t pick up the phone and call him out of the blue—for some reason the thought of that makes my palms sweat. I kept my note short. I enclosed a photocopy of the only letter from him I still have, dated July 1968, and said I hoped life had been good to him. I told him that I’d searched for him on and off for decades, but that his address came to me in an astonishing way that I’d love to tell him about.
I may not hear from Ernest. Nevertheless, the call from Evelyn was the most amazing gift. In this grade school photo, she is the blonde in the center with the big smile. During our phone chat on Saturday, her voice was warm and generous, and she laughed a lot. Four decades may have vanished since we lost touch, but her sweet spirit is clearly unchanged.