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 Anita@LovableLiberal.com. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.