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A hang up led to connection, forgiveness

© St. Petersburg Times
published January 28, 2003

Even our embarrassing moments can teach us a thing or two. I remember one lesson I learned from a telephone repairman.

It was a Friday, midafternoon. My husband had come home early from the office. I was in the midst of planning for a dinner party I was having the next day. When I picked up the phone in my dining room to check my food order, I found that the line was dead. I ran to my neighbor's house to call and report it to the telephone company, greatly relieved that there was still time to send out a repairman.

Before the repairman arrived, I wandered into the den, where my husband was reading the newspaper, and to my dismay discovered that the phone wasn't dead: It was off the hook. I showed the phone to my husband, telling him about my call to the telephone company. Just then the doorbell rang. The repairman had arrived.

I should have told him that I had been mistaken and sent him on his way. But I was too embarrassed. I let him in. Looking on, my husband eyed me strangely but didn't say a word. The repairman immediately headed to the basement to check the phone box. In the meantime, I quietly placed the phone in the den back on the hook. Surely, he would discover everything was in order and leave.

Instead, he came from the basement and said the system looked normal but that he would check outside. I looked at my husband, and when our eyes met, he shook his head. He still didn't say a word.

Uneasy, I pulled the curtain aside and watched the repairman climb the telephone pole in our back yard. I grimaced. As I turned to look at my husband, he said, "Aren't you going to tell him?" Sheepishly, I raised my hands, palms outstretched.

When the repairman came back into the house, he announced that there was nothing wrong outside either. He picked up the phone in the dining room and talked to the operator for a final check. He asked her to ring him. He shrugged and told me the phone was in order. I signed the order and thanked him. But when I saw my husband's eyes looking at me in disbelief, I felt miserable.

He shook his head and said, "It isn't like you to let someone go through all those motions and not tell him what happened."

That did it! I opened the back door and ran out just as the truck was beginning to back out the driveway. I waved wildly, and the repairman stopped suddenly when I banged on his door. He rolled down the window and looked at me questioningly.

I blurted the truth: I had discovered the phone was off the hook before he arrived, but I was too embarrassed to tell him. As time went on, I became more reluctant and ashamed that I hadn't told him. With tears in my eyes, I said I was sorry he had to go through all that trouble just on my account. If he wanted to put it in his report, I would take full responsibility.

He threw his head back and roared. He laughed so hard that I thought he was hysterical. After he picked up a tissue from a box on his dashboard and wiped his eyes, he explained that he had just had a big argument with his best friend a couple of days ago. His friend bet him that a woman would never admit that she was wrong, especially if she could get away with it.

"Well, I just won that bet, and believe me, dear lady, I'll never put it on my report -- but on one condition. If my friend doubts me, is it okay if I bring him around to verify it? He's a doubting Thomas and is having some marital problems."

I assured him it was all right, and if I weren't here, my husband would confirm it. He looked at me a little surprised and answered, "Your husband knew?" I lowered my eyes and said, "Yes, and all my husband said was, 'That's so unlike you.' In fact, that is what really convinced me to dash out and tell you so I could live with myself."

The repairman looked at me and said, "Maybe I can convince my friend to be more forgiving. Thanks a lot."

I backed away and waved at him as he pulled out. He must have convinced his friend, because I never heard from him again.

- LaVerne Hammond, who divides her time between Wisconsin and Florida, is an octogenarian at work on her memoirs. Write her in care of Seniority, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.

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