Vintage Brush

The president of what?"

Is there a name for a brush with fame in the distant past? Would you call it an antique brush, or a vintage brush, or maybe just a piece of history? What if the encounter is through telephone wires? This is how an ordinary response to the ringing of the phone left an indelible impression on the auditory cortex of my brain that has stayed fresh for 42 years.

In 1965, during my first week on the job doing cancer research at a world-famous research hospital, I answered my boss’s telephone while everyone else was out at lunch. Being the lowest on the totem pole, I was left to eat my sandwich at the desk and mind the phone.

“Hello,” boomed the voice on the other end of the line.

“Who is calling?’ I asked, trying to sound as professional as possible.

“Mr. Johnson,” the caller replied, but my totally unschooled immigrant's ear missed the caller’s surprise at not being instantly recognized.

“Mr. Johnson—who?” I inquired naively.

And then the booming voice, now with a tinge of irritation, responded, “The President.”

I persisted. “The president of _what?”_

Here came the shocker that momentarily stopped my heart as I heard, “...of these United States.”

It took me a few moments to regain my wits and realize that the office gossip I'd overheard must be true. President Johnson was said to be a close friend of my boss, a beautiful researcher married to a highly influential Democratic donor. There were even some who had a juicier take on their friendship. As it turned out, when my boss returned, I told her very hesitantly about the call, still somewhat concerned that I may have been a victim of an office prank.

She was delighted to hear that he had called and said, “Yes, Luci Baines and Lynda Bird are visiting us this weekend.”


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