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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

She is creative, funny and a vibrant 87. He is laid back, nice to everybody, a supportive cheerleader and a cancer survivor still going strong at 91. They’ve been together for nearly 40 years and finish each other’s sentences.

Phyllis and Wade Tucker met in 1976 when they worked across the hall from each other. He had his own insurance agency; she was a secretary for a management company.

“Everyone in my office was Jewish; everyone in his wasn’t,” Phyllis says. “We used to call the distance in between the Gaza Strip.”

Wade remembers not liking her much, because she would always come into his offices to run copies on his machine.

“He told me I had to pay 10 cents a copy,” she laughs. They discovered they were both going through rough divorces—and the rest is history.

Wade (“It’s really John Wade, but I always go by just Wade; it was my mother’s maiden name,” he says) was born and raised in Beverly Hills. His father was in the real estate business.

“My dad drank a lot,” he recalls, “but wouldn’t touch a drop when he was working on a project. He had developments in the Palm Springs area, and I always liked it here, which is why, 19 years ago, when Phyllis and I retired, I wanted to move here.”

Wade and his sister were raised in a religious family. His mom, originally from Minnesota, was a Christian Scientist; his dad, originally from Connecticut, was Methodist. Perhaps the greatest lesson in his life was learned from his mom: “She taught me to always be nice to everybody, more even to the poor than the rich. We were in Beverly Hills, where there are so many rich people, and she would take my old clothes and donate them for those who needed them.”

Phyllis, the youngest of three sisters, was born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., in a Jewish family that kept a kosher household. “My grandfather was a rabbi,” she says, “and my mother, originally from Kiev, Russia, and father, originally from Warsaw, Poland, had an arranged marriage. I’m so proud to know my father’s name is inscribed at Ellis Island.

“I got my sense of humor from my mom, who lived to 97 years old,” Phyllis says. “She used to joke that she had no wrinkles on her face, ‘But you should see my behind!’ She worked in a bakery all her life, and my favorite story is when a robber came into the bakery, and she got in his face with: ‘I work for a living. You should go out and get a job, too!’

“My mom taught me there was nothing more important in life than family. She was such a strong influence on me. My dad, on the other hand, was kind of just there. He was very quiet.”

Phyllis went to Drake Business School after graduating high school, while Wade went into the service during World War II as a paratrooper; he completed one year at Santa Monica Community College when he returned. Phyllis and Wade both had first marriages with children.

Although Phyllis and Wade met in 1976, they didn’t get together as a couple until 1981—and after Wade finally asked her out to dinner, they started to sneak home at lunchtime. She used to play April Fools’ jokes on him, once taping his phone receiver down so when he tried to answer it, the entire instrument came up; another time, she put dirt into his instant coffee.

“My daughter had lots of dolls,” she recalls, “and I once took the head of one of them and put it into the men’s bathroom toilet, so when they lifted the lid … .”

Wade and Phyllis got a motor home and traveled around the country for more than six years. “It was the best time of our lives,” she says. “We met so many people.”

Wade adds: “We’d drive into a park; someone would come by to say hello, and we’d have cocktail parties every night.”

Says Phyllis: “My mother would ask me, ‘How can you live in a truck?’ She didn’t realize it cost more than a condo!”

They say they’d put on shows in the motor home parks. “We’d do Roaring ’20s and dress up,” says Phyllis.

“She made me do it,” Wade adds with a laugh.

When Wade got ill with cancer, they decided to settle in Palm Desert, where they would be closer to consistent treatment.

Phyllis started an aerobic pool exercise group, and then joined the “You Don’t Have to be Hemingway” writing group (where I first met her five years ago). Her writing is almost always infused with humor. One piece was about the embarrassment of trying to squat behind her car to relieve herself in the middle of a long drive, with the constant complication of men stopping to help; another was about turning the tables on a sales-scam caller that concluded with him quitting his job.

Wade is the cheerleader. “He’s the one who told me I should start writing,” she says.

He chimes in: “She’s so intelligent.”

How did these charming, interesting and obviously devoted people become who they are?

Phyllis claims to have been very shy, “an ugly child” who had few friends and wasn’t happy as a young woman. “I felt lost in a crowd of one.” And yet, Phyllis is the now more outgoing and social of the pair.

Perhaps what unites them most is a sense of acceptance of where they are in life.

Wade: “You have to live each day the best you can and enjoy yourself. Don’t get mad at people when it doesn’t make that much difference. What’s happening in the world doesn’t have to make you mad. If you don’t like somebody, just don’t be around them.”

Phyllis: “I do get mad sometimes—at Wade’s illness—but you have to roll with the punches. It doesn’t make sense to be mad. Have patience. You have to hold on to a positive attitude, or you’ll hate life.”

Phyllis’ humor rises to the occasion yet again, mentioning that the writing group’s latest assignment is about describing a picture. “I’m picking the ‘Mona Lisa’ and assuming her expression is meant to say, ‘Hurry up. I have to go to the bathroom!’”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs Tuesday-Friday from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

I’m starting a new streaming-radio gig on iHub Radio (ihubradio.com), That’s Life, after 10 years of doing a call-in talk-show about politics (which I’ll still be doing on iHub as well). That’s Life will be an hour-long show airing weekdays that explores the things that make us all able to relate to each other—subjects like, “Did you ever see your father cry?” or, “What’s the worst job you ever had?”

Well, that covers two shows during my first week. I admit that I’ve struggled to come up with ideas that span all cultures and ages, and will lead to an entertaining daily show.

This brings us to the amazing group of seniors who attend the weekly You Don’t Have to Be Hemingway writing club; I wrote about them in 2014. The group recently held its sixth twice-a-year “recital,” led by creative director Helen Klein, whose idea it was to start this group. Other participants were residents Phyllis Tucker, introduced by Helen as the queen of Las Serenas, the Palm Desert residential complex where the group meets; Jean Ashworth, once with NASA; Karyn Marmo, whom Helen describes simply as “very funny”; multilingual Rosie Nathan; and Janet Arnot, “grandma deluxe and aerospace aficionado.”

Although they are not professional authors, these women produce stories, memoirs and poetry that are touching, revealing, humorous and enlightening. Most of the writing is done in response to “prompts” that Helen proposes—topics like, “What is your best memory?”; “What do you wish you had known when you were younger?”; “Do you remember something you gave away that you wish you had kept?”; and “Imagine three figurines, a bowl, and a lace doily, then write a story about it.”

You know … prompts that are rather similar to the topics that will be covered on my radio show.

One of the most touching readings was by Phyllis Tucker, “Basking in Beauty,” about the beauty of the innocence of a child bringing the promise of a better tomorrow; the beauty of friendship and being part of the older generation; and what is learned from making mistakes along the way. She recognized the beauty in all of life, and love, and asked, “Who would want to live without it?”

She also expressed her humorous side with “Rudolph’s Resignation Letter,” about the red-nosed icon deciding to take a position with another herd.

Helen Klein wrote “Vertically Challenged,” about her own efforts to transcend being an ever-shrinking short woman. “Everyone is taller than me,” she lamented, “but I think about the list of ‘shorties’ including Harriet Tubman (civil rights pioneer), Charlotte Bronte (of the famous literary family), Clara Barton (the nurse who started the American Red Cross), and John Hancock (a leading patriot during the American Revolution and the first Governor of Massachusetts).” Good company to be in. She completed her story with, “Now if I could only find something to wear!”

Jean Ashworth has recollections of a simpler life growing up in rural Canada in “And They Call It Progress.” Jean considered what her grandparents might think of how life has changed. “I don’t think after having seven children that my grandmother would have thought much of Viagra!”

Rosie Nathan wrote about “A Big Stack of Records” she once found, noting that everything will die one day, but music will live eternally. Another of her stories was “Surprise, Surprise,” about a man suffering color-blindness who finds sunglasses with “magic lenses” and cries with pure joy when he finds himself in a technicolor wonderland. Rosie also tackled “Springtime Again” with images of flowers blooming, the sun shining, clear air, the smell of oranges, and a nest of robins. She’s carried away with the enchantment of it all.

Karyn Marmo penned a three-part account of “Passing the Baton,” involving a dog for which she was baby-sitting … and her husband’s efforts to buy the dog. “I didn’t want another dog. It looked like a small sheep with no hair. At the vet, it took a split second for the dog to need to be muzzled, looking like a miniature Hannibal Lecter.” By part three, “The little dog I swear I didn’t want is now the little dog I love.”

Janet Arnot’s contributions included “It’s the Pits,” recounting the time the gorgeous love of her life had just proposed … to her sister. “There he is,” she recounted. “I want to be swept up by him, the man of my dreams. I look across the room and see them holding hands and then he gets down on one knee. This isn’t how I pictured it.”

Helen closed the recital with “Say What?” “I consider myself a pretty nice person, a good-natured, even-tempered individual, but sometimes I get really pissed off! I may be in my 90s, but I certainly have all my faculties.” She then proceeded to rap!

These women—with their imaginations, energy and talent—are inspirations to me, especially now that I need a broad, all-encompassing subject five days a week. Some questions I’ve come up with so far came straight from “Hemingway” prompts:

“Who have you always wished you looked like?”

“What was your first time away from home, and how did you handle it?”

“What’s the most disturbing call you’ve ever received?”

“What do you remember most about your mother?” (Jean recalled that her mother only ever wore one perfume. “Whenever I feel myself missing her, I put some on.”)

“What was it like where you grew up?”

“What’s your favorite memory?”

I have my own story for every question. If you do as well, call me when I’m on the air at iHub Radio, and let’s talk.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal” Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors