The early journeys of my life were between Alexander City and Montgomery, Ala. Fifty miles. About one hour’s drive time. I was either going to college or visiting my sister’s family. Or coming home. So, there was a system. I would call someone when I left or call when I arrived. That way the relevant people would know I’d safely made it to my destination.
When my niece Abby drives eight hours from Auburn, Ala., to Chapel Hill, N.C., I ask, “Will you text me when you get there?” I still want to know that she has arrived safely. But the questions are different now.
A while back, my sister had an old phone on a guest bedroom dresser – by “old” I mean an antique desk phone, not an outdated version of a smartphone. Her granddaughter walked past and asked, “How does that thing work?”
It’s hard to imagine that this young girl won’t know the experience of busy signals. Or what it feels like when your finger dials a number with a 9 or zero.
Or how heavy the receiver was. It was like lifting a three-pound weight and holding it up to your ear. If you were on the calling end, there was a pause after you hear someone lift the receiver off the cradle. Imagine counting one, two, three. Then you hear “Hello?” This came as a question, because no one knew who was calling.
This would be a surprise as well: nobody ever asked, “Where are you?” Because if you answered the phone, you answered that question.
Also, nobody ever asked, “Where is my phone?” That would be silly, and or concerning – they might take you to the doctor if you asked questions like that because the phone was where it had been for thirty years. Families would hold meetings, “He just asked, ‘Where is my phone?’” Word would spread through town: “Bless his heart. I heard he was walking around the house looking under papers, checking pockets and saying things like, ‘Where is my phone?’”
There were times you’d get crank calls. If you hung up without speaking, a family member would ask, “Who was that?” You’d say, “I don’t know. It was a crank call.”
There was no Caller ID, so you really didn’t know who it was. Only police shows on TV knew about things like tracing calls, but the officer always had to keep them on the phone for a long enough time. Oh, the drama, because you never knew if that was going to happen. Or if the hostage-taker would slam the phone down when the tracers had pinpointed the vicinity but not the actual location.
Also, no one slams the phone down anymore. Too expensive.
The thing you didn’t want was a call in the middle of the night. Very disconcerting – a ring breaking through the darkness. It’s bad news or a wrong number, either one. Because no one calls at 2 a.m. to say, “I’m perfectly sober” or “I lost three pounds” or “I have a new job.”
So there was a different way of connecting with family and friends. Yet a lot of the questions still revolve around these areas: How are you? Are things going well for you? Are you safe? Will I see you soon? Are you on your way here?
Not long ago, I was listening to a podcast about something called Silver Lines. Senior citizens in the UK have a number they can call just to connect with someone. It seemed like a good service. Who wouldn’t want to hear a friendly voice through a phone line. Just someone asking, “How are you? Are things going well for you?”
“Reach out and touch someone,” the advertising slogan for AT&T, really was one of the best. On par with “Can you hear me now?” in effect but more tender in expression. Wouldn’t it be nice to connect with someone who’d enjoy hearing from you? Doesn’t everyone know that answer is yes?
When you lose someone, this becomes a big missing piece. I used to call my mother. When she passed away, I carried around that sensation of needing to call her but not being able to do so. A reach that is interrupted. I explained back then, “When I get home in the afternoon, not calling my mother is the first thing I don’t do.”
I heard a great quote the other day. Kim Hendrix, the former WSFA anchor, was participating in a conference I was attending when she said, “Be the hand reaching out to others or see the hand that is reaching out to you.”
Life is short. Make the call or take the call, and enjoy your magnificent journey.
– Minnie Lamberth
The Magnificent Journey
Vol. 2, Issue 14