There are a lot of things I adore about my current day job at a small liberal arts college near my home in Northeast Los Angeles. Like the exceptionally beautiful campus, the dedicated staff, and the secret vending machine that still sells sodas for just $1.00. I treasure the architecture and the history. But more than anything, I enjoy getting to interact with Alums–specifically the “50 Year Club” (those who graduated 50+ years ago).

There’s a great paradox in the demeanor of seniors–you’d think that, as our time runs out, we’d be in a greater hurry. But if you’ve ever stood in line behind a blue-haired lady at the post office, you know the opposite is true. They spin their yarns while buying the stamps they could just as easily purchase from a kiosk in the hallway. Are they lonely? Bored? Hoping to share what they know with as many as possible?

I’m not sure.

But today, I took one such call.

It was about fifteen minutes. At first, I was annoyed. I had tasks to complete, just wanted to know what she needed. But she was in no rush.

This alum (I’ll call her Rosemary) was hoping to find out whether one of her classmates (I’ll call her Jane) was deceased. Those are, sadly, some of the most common inquiries we receive. As we chatted, Rosemary told me about her ideas for 50 Year Club memorabilia (a money clip, a bracelet charm, or a tie pin–do people still use those, she wondered?) and about her life. Four years ago, at 84, she’d suffered a stroke. I could hear it as she spoke, lips heavy on one side. But she recovered (as well as could be expected), and now she is developing the Alumni website for her class. Yes, she emails. But please don’t sign her up for those pain-in-the-ass newsletters. Only tell her if Jane is living or dead, so she can update the attendee list for next year’s reunion.

Because I listened, she was happy. Rosemary asked my name towards the end of the call.

Helena?

She’d only known one other Helena in her life.

In Minnesota, when she was a girl, there was a young woman–a French woman–she knew, called Helena. During the 1930’s, Helena had her own job. In a department store. At the cosmetics counter! And what a sophisticated woman she was. Rosemary still recalls the smell of perfume, the glamour wafting about Helena.

I said, I’m happy to be in such company.

I said, You made my day.

Tomorrow, first thing, I’ll look up the classmate she inquired about. There is only a small bit of pertinent data: DECEASED=Yes/No. I hope that I’ll have happy news for Rosemary. But, if I don’t, I’ll still write back and let her know that I’m glad she called.