The Miracle of Reconnecting
by Ruth Jackson
December 11, 2023
Ruth and Stjepan with Roses at the Pier

When I retired in 2020 at 70, I began a campaign to reach back in time to try to reconnect with people who had been important to me earlier in my life. I sent out 10 letters to people who had touched my heart but with whom I had lost contact along the way. Since we were living in a Google world, I could put my genealogy skills to work to find current contact information.

Ruth and Stjepan sitting in garden 2021 A miracle was locating and reconnecting with my former landlord from more than 50 years ago.

It was 1970 and my 3-year-old daughter and I were standing on the porch of an apartment in San Pedro, California that was for rent. Stjepan was doing work in the bathroom and through a very small window he could see us. We could not see him.

His voice with its deep Croatian accent came booming out of the window, “Ve don’t take no kids.”

I begged him to come to the door and talk to me. Eventually, he did. He saw my daughter Jill, who has Cerebral Palsy, in her tiny leg braces with her big smile. After some convincing, he said, “Vell, I guess we make exception.”

He became my landlord from 1970 to 1973. From 1973 until the year 2020 he crossed my mind but I never saw nor spoke to him again.

I couldn’t find Stjepan online so I just mailed a letter to the old apartment address, hoping he was still living there. Indeed, he was. He responded with a phone call, “Ya, I remember you and sweet Jill! Come see me!”

Stjepan at LA Arboretum 2023He was “Old World” and I was “quasi-hippy.” I was very young and knew relatively little about the world. He was older and knew a lot about the world. Because of my youthful experience with Stjepan, I always believed I could have deep conversations with people of very different opinions and that conversations would always end with mutual respect.

But it turns out he was pretty much unique in my life. I don’t think I’ve ever met another person who would really listen to me, really hear me out and still value me and respect my opinion, even if we did not agree.

The magic of our relationship was that our beliefs were almost always 180 degrees opposite, but we were never angry with each other. We treated each other and our individual views with respect.

When I first drove 150 miles to visit him in 2020, his age and mental decline were clear. His answer to almost every question was “I don’t remember” or “I don’t know.” Yet, he would listen to the stories of my life and sometimes I would see a glimmer of his old self shining through.

Ruth and Stjepan at Long BeachEventually he began telling stories of his youth and his family in Croatia. I was fascinated. As with most memory loss – his current day memory was much worse than his long-term memory. As long as we talked about the distant past, he had many stories to tell.

Although we did not live near each other – I lived in Santa Maria, California – I continued to find reasons to travel to Los Angeles. I always planned an adventure and took into consideration his physical and mental limitations, as well as my own.

A favorite memory was during the Covid pandemic when the two of us “old folks” should have been under quarantine. Instead, we went to Pt. Fermin a beautiful park on a cliff in San Pedro and had wine and snacks. The crashing ocean is just below the cliff. In the park on the grass, a police car slowly approached us. I leaned over to Stjepan and said, “No masks. Open Alcohol. Covid. We are so busted.”

The police car pulled up next to us. The police officer lowered his window and gave us a “thumbs up” and a big smile. Maybe he saw what we saw – no crowd, sunshine and beach air and just the two of us couldn’t possibly be dangerous!

Ruth and Stjepan sitting on bench at the pier in Long Beach, California

At the Pier

We took another trip to honor those in our lives who had passed on. We bought some lovely roses. He told me where he had sprinkled his brother’s ashes in the ocean and we tried to go there but the area was no longer accessible. I said we need a pier that goes out over the water. He guided me, “turn here, turn there, go around that” and voila! A beautiful little pier, only about 10’ long, with a parking space right next to it and a bench. We were able to drop a rose in the harbor for his wife and his brother. We also did so for my first husband and father of my children, my second husband, and all the other family members and friends we had lost in life. We returned to that spot many times and just sat at the bench and watched the ships come and go.

Ruth and Stjepan at the LA Arboretum October 2023Just before his 84th birthday we went to the Arcadia Arboretum where they have a tram. Stjepan told his son-in-law that “Ven I turn 84, I vill become an old man.” So I told Stjepan I would come a week before he turned 84 because I wouldn’t want to go on an adventure with an old man!

I lived in that apartment for three years. Between 1970 and 1973, if you added up each individual conversation, it probably wouldn’t add up to a 24-hour day. Those few memories were etched in my heart and reconnecting 50 years later was absolutely miraculous. As long as I am able, I will continue to dream up little adventures, little precious moments, for us to share.

Ruth and Stjepan in motorized cart at LA Arboretum

Ruth Jackson is the mother of two perfect daughters and four delightful grandchildren. For 50 years Ruth worked with people who have a disability. For 34 of those years she has been and currently is a CARF (Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities) surveyor. She is on the board of directors of Options in San Luis Obispo, California and of Unity Church in Arroyo Grande, California. She enjoys travel; gardening; sewing and writing. She can be contacted at jxnruth@hotmail.com

9 Comments

  1. Amanda Sherlock

    What a beautiful story! Ruth, thank you for your inspiration.

    Reply
  2. nancy king

    A lovely story for and in a dark time.

    Reply
  3. Judy Fragale

    Wonderful article!

    Reply
  4. Susan Clack

    A perfect article! Your story was even better the second time I heard it, just now…the pictures made my heart sing for you both!!! So glad you are seizing the day instead of letting the day seize you. Love to you and everyone in your magic circle of Life!

    Reply
  5. Lisa Leonard

    This is beautiful Ruth. Thanks for sharing your heart.

    Reply
  6. Tink

    How magical to reconnect and travel forward with each visit! Very well written and inspiring!

    Reply
  7. Dixie Wilsbacher

    Love your article, Ruth! Such sweet descriptions of your personal and treasured adventures & conversations with a dear friend after eventually reconnecting!

    Reply
  8. Jade

    Wonderfully written! ?

    Reply
  9. Gail

    Your story fills my heart! You have brought such joy to Stjepan and to all of us who have read the journey. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *