'A Stranger Accidentally Called Me 20 Years Ago—We Finally Just Met'

In the early 2000s, before I started my painting company, I was working as an online stockbroker. I was in my mid 20s, living in Rhode Island and I had just gotten a cell phone; one of those old flip phones. Out of nowhere, I started getting calls from a Florida number.

The person on the other end had a very southern, sweet voice and she would realize that I wasn't who she was looking for, so she would hang up. I didn't even get as far as saying who I was at first, she would just say sorry and hang up.

I could tell she was really sweet, so after a few calls over the next week I finally said: "Hey, if you're going to keep calling me, why not tell me your name, where you're from and who are you looking for?"

Her name was Gladys and she explained she was trying to look for her sister in Maryland, because her son had died. The Rhode Island area code is 401 and Maryland's area code is 410, so I received a lot of calls around that time and then they started spreading out, but Gladys would still call the wrong number.

I don't remember exactly when, but within the first year or two, she started calling just to say hi. She would ask how my family were, what the weather was like and how life was. She was really interested in the weather and always asking about it. She'd look at what the temperature was in Rhode Island and ask if we'd had snow or storms. Our conversations in the past 20 years have mostly been small talk; it's simple and nice. When I see Gladys calling I know it's going to be a good phone call so I try to answer.

After she called to chat the first few times, I added her to my phone contacts as "Florida Lady." As the years passed and I got married and had kids, my children began to see the phone ringing on the counter and they would grab it and say "Florida Lady is calling!" They knew the whole story. They have grown up knowing there is this lady I speak to. At some point, I added her name in front, so now she is in my contacts as "Gladys Florida Lady."

Long Distance Friends Met Over Misdial
Mike Moffitt meeting Gladys in Florida after 20 years of talking on the phone. Gladys first started calling Moffitt two decades ago, while trying to reach her sister. Mike Moffitt

We have probably talked every two or three months, although there have been stretches of 6 months where I realize I haven't heard from her so I'll call her to see how she's doing and what's going on. We both call each other. It's almost like having a "new school" pen pal, she has always been genuinely interested in me.

There was one time, between 5 and 10 years ago, that Gladys' number called but it was her son on the line. He said that one of Gladys' sons had passed away and that his mom wanted him to call me and let me know. At that point, I realized what our connection meant. It struck me that she had taken the time to let this guy in Rhode Island know what had happened, so I sent her flowers.

Last year my family and I were heading out of the country for Thanksgiving and we had a connecting flight in Florida, so we stayed there for a day or two. I knew Gladys lived around an hour's drive from where we were, so I spoke to her daughter to say I wanted to come and see Gladys, but unfortunately on that trip we couldn't connect.

Then, we traveled to Florida again this year for a low key Thanksgiving trip and I said to my family that I wanted to try and see Gladys. We were driving up to West Palm Beach but there was tons of traffic at the turn off, so we kept driving up the highway. About 10 minutes later I went to check the map and I realized we were at Delray Beach and only two miles from where Gladys lived.

We decided to go and see her, but I didn't know what to expect. I didn't know who she lived with or whether she was home that day. We also wanted to be respectful and not bring five people into her house, so my wife and daughters waited in the car. I had gotten some flowers for her, but I was a little nervous walking up to the door. I didn't know if I was going to be imposing, who was going to answer the door and what they were going to think of me just showing up.

Gladys' daughter came around from the side of the house and as I was trying to explain who I was and ask if Gladys was home, she invited me in. Gladys came walking through from the kitchen, so I said: "It's Mike from Rhode Island!" She threw her arms up and said: "I'm so blessed!"

I stayed for five or ten minutes and she gave me a tour of her house, told me what she was doing for Thanksgiving and who was coming over. Then we talked about what I was doing there, the weather and took a photograph together in her dining room. I had no idea what she looked like before I met her but she looked exactly like she sounds. It totally fits. She's very genuine.

I think it's an interesting story and I've told it to various people over the years. But when I shared the story and photo on Facebook after we met, I couldn't believe how many people wanted to comment on it and say what it meant to them. I have had people calling me and calling my business just to say how much they appreciate me sharing the story. I have been really taken aback. The other day I had a guy reach out to me on Facebook. He said that we have two friends in common and that he is a police officer in Delray Beach and would look out for Gladys.

The story getting so much attention has got me thinking why I kept in touch with Gladys for 20 years. I don't think I ever did it for any intentional reason, but my dad did raise me to connect with people. I look back on when I was a kid and he just knew everyone in town. I live in a small community in a small state and I went to a small college, so I like connecting with people and staying connected.

We'll probably be going down to Florida more now as I think my daughter is going to college there, so I'm sure I'll stop in on Gladys more often. I definitely want to introduce her to my wife and kids, they have semi-known her for years! And, now this story has gone crazy we'll probably be talking a little more about all the excitement.

I'll definitely be reaching out more for holidays and Christmas, because I can see how much it means to her. I understand Gladys appreciates our chats, and I always leave the conversation thinking: that was great.

Mike Moffitt lives in Rhode Island with his family.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.

As told to Jenny Haward.