“Should I turn my ice maker off at night?” the frail voice at the other end of the phone inquired.
“I don’t think so. Why would you want to?” I asked.
Without giving the lady time to answer my question I attempted to control the call.
“Do you happen to have the model number for your refrigerator ma’am?”
I knew the answer to her ice maker question didn’t depend on the model but I was required to ask for it by process. And while I secretly hoped the old woman would tell me to go to hell so that I could get off the phone faster and meet my handle time goals, she did no such thing. For the next several minutes she proceeded to perform what sounded like geriatric gymnastics in an attempt to read the tiny numbers imprinted on a tag inside her fridge which as it turned out was older than dirt. Why at this juncture she was even concerned with how much energy her refrigerator was using I hadn’t a clue.
As I explained the inner workings of ice production I kept my eye on the clock. What should have been a quick five-minute call had turned into nine. Just when I thought the old woman was satisfied she turned the tables on me. She wanted to know where I was located.
“Southwest Michigan” I replied. To which she exclaimed, “Oh I used to go there every summer and stay on Paw Paw Lake. We fished for bluegills. They tasted so good.”
It was then that I realized the reason for “Sally’s” call. She was obviously lonely.
“Really? Well my husband and I fish there sometimes. We fish for gills every chance we get.”
I watched the seconds tick away as Sally reminisced about bygone days . . .her childhood in Chicago and trips to Michigan. Another five minutes passed and by the end of the call I had somehow committed to sending a frozen bag of filets to an elderly “consumer” in California– a widow who had lost her husband two years prior.
And so it was that I bought fifteen dollars worth of dry ice, lied to the post office about hazardous materials, and sent Sally a beautiful bag of gills by two-day mail at the cost of $40 shipping. The fish, I believed, would never be cooked despite the recipe I included in the package. It was likely that she would only dream of eating them– recalling the days when she was a small child on the lake.
Sally would repay my gesture in a way that meant little to me at the time. She sent me a King James leather-bound Bible, “a good one” she said, and inside she inscribed her favorite scriptures. She also included a photo of herself from what appeared to be the seventies– one of her standing in a Japanese-style living room wearing a wide-legged pantsuit . . .her hair piled high in a “do.” It so happened that she and her husband had admired Japanese design and had built their fantastical home to reflect their Asian tastes. By Sally’s description it was a palatial home but at the end they lost it in some financial debacle.
Over the next couple of years Sally and I would speak monthly by phone. She often spoke of her husband “Emerson” and talked of wanting to join him across the way– but not before her time which only God knew. Once wealthy and quite a socialite, Sally would lament over how dry her skin had become and the condition of her 20-year old convertible.
Sally was around when I received the terrible news of my daughter’s molestation and felt broken beyond repair. She implored me to seek Jesus but I softly declined. I could not bring myself to believe. A year or so later she would enter a nursing home and be unable to speak. With no family to care for her affairs we eventually lost touch.
Now think about this. For a brief period of time during the recession I took work as a customer service rep. Of the 500 plus agents that could have taken that call, I was the one who answered. Of all the agents in our center, I was the only one who had fished Paw Paw lake and had lived in a Japanese house once upon a time. To deny it was a God thing seems like denying air. It is by evidence such as this that I came to know Christ and was baptized in the summer of 2010.
And for all of you who have not been following this blog, prior to my encounter with Sally, I was in the Japanese culture for 21 years.