Gladys Hankerson was at her home in Delray Beach, Florida about 20 years ago when she picked up the phone to call her sister. She did not realize that when she dialed, she mistakenly transposed two digits of the number.
Her sister, who lived in Somerset County, Md., Had an area code 410 – but Hankerson, then 60, accidentally typed 401 instead.
It reached Mike Moffitt, a resident of Rhode Island who was in his mid-twenties at the time. He took the call.
Hankerson hung up when she realized she had dialed the wrong number, but called back several times, not knowing she was still confusing the area code. Moffitt, admittedly amused by the ordeal, answered each time.
âShe kept saying, ‘Oh, I’m sorry honey, wrong number’ and hanging up,â Moffitt recalls. “I laughed a little about it.”
Eventually the calls died down, but the following week, Hankerson accidentally dialed Moffitt’s number again.
At this point, “I was like, we might as well get to know each other,” Moffitt said. “I asked her where she was from, and we just started talking.”
Quickly, he realized that “she was sweet, warm and polite.” Talking to Hankerson was “just nice, nice, and easy,” he said.
Hankerson, now 80, felt the same about Moffitt: âWe talked about this, and we talked about that. We became friends from there.
And so, an unlikely bond was born, and it lasted for two decades.
âIt’s just progressed over the years,â Moffitt said, adding that every few months one of them calls the other to register. âEvery time you talk to him, you know it’s going to be a good conversation. It’s kind of like an old-fashioned pen pal.
âWhen you meet nice people, you can’t help reaching out to them,â said Hankerson, a mother of 10.
When Hankerson – who was born in South Carolina and moved to Florida at the age of 5 – mistakenly called Moffitt, his life was in disarray. Her 30-year-old son had just died and she was going through a divorce. Her phone buddy, she said, served as an uplifting distraction.
Soon after, she considered Moffitt a friend. The two were kind to each other and they regularly had “good conversations,” she said.
Although their conversations have remained mostly at the surface level, “when I speak to her I can feel the love,” said Hankerson, who has worked as a housekeeper for the past 52 years.
“She would watch my weather, almost like my mom does,” Moffitt, now 46, joked.
Sometimes Hankerson would just call and say, âI see you got snow today. “
Their relationship deepened when about 10 years ago one of Hankerson’s sons contacted Moffitt to let him know that a family member had died. He quickly sent flowers.
âI was like, ‘Wow, she thought someone was calling me,’â Moffitt said. “It stopped me in my tracks.”
“Who in the world would have thought that I was going to dial the wrong number and meet a loving friend?” Hankerson said.
The couple had never met in person and had no idea what the other was like, but they both knew “that there is this person out there who is always interested and thinks of me. Said Moffitt, who has a paint and gutter business.
During their 20-year friendship, Moffitt went through life, eventually marrying and having three daughters, all of whom are big fans of Moffitt and Hankerson’s long-standing friendship.
âMy three daughters would see my phone on the counter and say, ‘Florida Lady is calling,'” Moffitt said. “They take a kick out of it.”
Hankerson’s sister, for her part, is grateful that her area code was mixed up several times that day 20 years ago.
“It’s really amazing,” said Josephine Green, 70, who still lives in Somerset County. âYou don’t meet people like that every day. That’s wonderful.”
Hankerson and Moffitt had talked about seeing each other in person at one point, but life still bothered them. That last Thanksgiving, however, when Moffitt and his family were in Florida to visit his eldest daughter’s college campuses, he decided to surprise Hankerson at her house.
Moffitt got the address of Hankerson’s daughter, and when he realized he was only a few miles from her house, he decided, “We have to do it, let’s go!” “
On November 24, he stopped at a Joe shopkeeper to grab a bouquet of flowers and knocked on Hankerson’s front door. Moffitt decided not to call her ahead of time, he said, because âI didn’t want to be an imposition where she starts cleaning the house. I just decided I was going to take a chance and see how it goes.
Lucky for him, Hankerson was home – and more than happy to see him.
âIt’s Mike from Rhode Island,â he said when their eyes met for the first time.
Hankerson was devastated.
âI never thought I would have seen it,â she said. “He made my day.”
Hankerson was especially excited, she continued, because âthat same week he was in my head. I realized I hadn’t spoken to Mike in a while, then he introduced himself.
Moffitt was delighted to finally meet Hankerson.
He took a selfie of them and posted it on Facebook, writing, “There are some amazing people in this world who are on the wrong phone number.” Thousands of comments and messages poured in, including from people who shared equally heartwarming stories.
âIt’s all about the connection,â Moffitt said.
He and Hankerson hope to spend more time together and introduce themselves to their families. In the meantime, however, they will continue their usual phone calls.
Their friendship was based on the wrong number, but in the end, they said, it was the right number after all.
âYou can become friends with strangers and learn to love them,â Hankerson said. “I think the world of him.”