Two weeks ago, I discovered the name of a long-lost relative through my genealogical researches. On a whim, I put the name into Google, and lo and behold, a phone number came up. Apparently, she lives in Plano, in greater Dallas. So I called.
Kathleen is 83 and seemed rather bored by my genealogical questions. Perhaps she was wary, too. After all, I might be some kind of con man pretending to be a relative and trying to wheedle his way into her bank account. Finally, she gave me a couple phone numbers to the genealogists in the family.
“Would you like to write down my phone number?” I asked.
“Well,” she said with a heartless Texas drawl, “what would it benefit me?”
After hanging up, I laughed. Then I went upstairs and found my girlfriend.
“You’ll never believe what this woman said to me,” I said, and proceeded to tell her about the most precious line of the conversation.
What would it benefit me?
“That perfectly sums up a certain way of thinking that some people have, doesn’t it?” I said.
“Yes, it certainly does,” Claire said.
In time, I got over it and continued my genealogical search. I called both of the numbers Kathleen gave me, and one of those people, Lloyd, was incredibly helpful. He’s quite an accomplished genealogist, and didn’t really need to refer to the computer in order to rattle off names and dates. I later learned that he had owned a bank at one point, in spite of the fact that childhood polio had rendered him wheelchair bound. Now, in his late seventies, Lloyd was lucid, insightful, and comprehensive.
Two weeks later, totally out of the blue, Kathleen called back. I guess she’d thought about it for a couple weeks and found herself curious. Turns out Kathleen didn’t know the name of her own grandmother, Lillie, or know that she had died at age 27 in 1901 while giving birth to her own father. She didn’t know that her grandfather had died at 31 of a stroke, a sad turn that scattered their four children to the four winds.
“It’s really kind of a tragedy,” I said.
“Yes, it is. But that kind of thing happened a lot in those days, women dying in childbirth.”
We talked a bit more, and then, when we were hanging up, she said something curious.
“You’ll call me every now and then, won’t you?”
“What will it benefit me?” I said.
It would have been perfect for me to say that, but in all truth, I didn’t. I’m not the type of smartass who takes revenge just to be clever.
Yes, Kathleen, I will call you, just to say hello.