03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

What I Learned from Meeting a Man Who Met Albert Einstein

At a recent holiday dinner, my beau and I met Bob, our hostess's uncle. He had been a renowned yachtsman and had worked at high levels at the admiralty in Washington DC. Bob was now in his 90s, tall and thin, with a shock of white hair. As he was bent over at almost a 45-degree angle, he had to be assisted to get from his walker to the couch, where he plopped down and immediately fell asleep during the wine and cheese chatter.

Maneuvered to the dinner table, Bob ate little and spoke less. When asked how he was doing, he muttered, "Still breathing."

Bob's wife was 87 and still a patrician beauty, and she made up for his silence. She dropped names of statesmen and politicians the couple had known, and kept mentioning that her ancestors came on the Mayflower.

This elderly woman's redeeming feature was that she insisted that her dear husband tell the story of when he met Albert Einstein. Old Bob suddenly beamed, and told a story so charming and unexpected that I decided to share it here on Huffpost.

In the 1930s, when Bob was a teenager, he was sailing in Narragansett Bay near Waverly Rhode Island in a 22-foot sailboat. In the distance he saw another small sailboat that had run hard aground. And the tide was going out.

Bob sailed over to help. A middle-aged man and his younger female companion were trying to get the boat afloat. And Bob was flabbergasted when he realized that the hapless man was none other than Albert Einstein, the world-renowned physicist who had discovered the theory of relativity.

Einstein would have been in his late 50s by then, a refugee who had escaped from German Nazism. He was to spend his entire life trying to find the unified theory of how the universe works, and taught at Princeton, receiving many world honors, including the Nobel Prize for physics.

But on that sunny day on the bay in Rhode Island, Albert Einstein's main problem was how to get his sailboat to move.

Young Bob figured out how to get the boat sailing again, with much effort, and the great man was most appreciative. But that wasn't the end of it.

A week or two later when Bob was sailing in the bay he saw that a boat was grounded again, and coming closer realized that once again the man in the boat was Albert Einstein. Bob now realized that Einstein may have been considered a genius who revolutionized physics, in league with Copernicus and Newton, but he certainly couldn't sail a boat very well.

So Bob once again rescued Albert Einstein. And Einstein and the woman he called his "secretary" were again most appreciative.

The following Saturday night Bob attended a scavenger hunt at the local yacht club. And the first item on the list was to find and produce two strands of Albert Einstein's hair. This was supposed to be a joke, as people knew that the hirsute Einstein was summering in the area, but the odds of getting those famous hairs off his brilliant head were pretty remote.

But not for Bob. He made his way to Einstein's house and when the "secretary" opened the door she recognized Bob immediately, and invited him in. And when Bob asked Albert Einstein for two strands of his hair, the woman cut them right off and gave Bob a bunch. And this time Bob was the one who was appreciative.

And then clever young Bob asked Albert Einstein if he would turn off the lights in his house so that the other scavenger hunters wouldn't dare bother the great man, even if they found the house. And the great physicist was happy to oblige, and the lights were turned off.

And Bob won the scavenger hunt.

So, that time, Albert Einstein, one of the most renowned people in all the world, returned the favor and rescued Bob.

When old Bob finished telling this wondrous anecdote his head nodded on the table, and he was soon snoozing in the romaine. But he didn't have to say another word. He had reminded me of a couple of life lessons:

Even the brightest of us have shortcomings. Even geniuses of the centuries.

And you never know when you meet someone what amazing experiences they may offer. Dig a bit, and you may find a treasure just like this one when you least expect it.