Out of the quarantine of mind, I thought of my mom on the phone. A throwback fifty years when telephones hung on walls or sat on tables next to thick directories Schwarzenegger couldn’t rip in two. Hers was centrally located in the hallway between her bedroom and the kitchenette. It hung patiently with rotary eyes circling portions of the alphabet. Off white, maybe because she reached for a smoke each time it rang, and a twenty foot cord slung between receiver and base. To call, she’d have to take several finger rides on the rotary ferris wheel to connect with a voice on the other end.
I swear we could jump rope while she chattered about with Maxine (Affectionately called Magazine by all her ten children.), When she bandied about in the kitchen blabbering on with Maryanne Himes we plucked the cord like a guitar string. I use to love to take the phone off the hook when the cord was pitifully tangled. I’d stretch it as high as I could reach and let the receiver spin like the bobbins on her sewing machine…Singer sewing machine. Green with fancied lettering on its body. Anyway, the phone.
I wonder what Alexander Graham Bell would think of what we’ve done to his marvelous invention? We cut the cords. We only have to reach in our pockets, or rifle through the cushions to call someone. Wait. Call? Honestly (Mom’s catch phrase.) Talking on our mobile phone is the function of last resort, no? [Odd thought: What if we gathered some old cell phones and made a mobile mobile to hang over the bassinet?]
Back to my dear mother. She could talk. She would listen. She had a strong neck, despite the pain in it I gave her sometimes. She could prop that yellowing dog bone of communication between her shoulder and chin for what seemed like hours. I’ll bet she could hold a shotput in there no handed.
In the mornings she’d find her coffee, Virginia Slims, the green bean bag ashtray, and stretch the dickens out of the cord to sit to table talk in the dining room. I remember the two clicks, always, of the lighter. I recall the uh hums and drags on the stick, hearing them before seeing them. I’d round the corner to find her in a worn out nightie and a thin line of smoke wafting above the cigarette pinched in the clasps of the tray.
In the evenings, same gig, except a drink in a tumbler or an Old Milwaukee with the tab pulled and dropped into the can. The surgeon general let her know about the tobacco hazards, but the beer company didn’t care about the choking hazards of a pull-tab. The conversations morphed a bit between sunrise sips and evening slurps. Reviewing the day’s activities after the fact was more colorful than the sizing up of the laundry list in the morning, which, by the way, always included laundry. Let me be clear…death and taxes, tis true. More true is death and taxes and laundry. Just ask anyone who has children splayed all over like grass seed.
After I moved out, for the second or third time, I’d dial 342-8127 to hear her voice dole out questions, advice, and little popcorn phrases like “oh, honestly” and “for heaven’s sake.” While I talked, occasionally I’d hear her blow smoke off to the side or ice cubes knocking together. My shoulders relax at the thought of it. Sometimes idiosyncrasies over time bring a sense of security.
My mother, God love her, kept the same number from the beginning of time until she hung up the phone for the last time in 2012. Sure, she traded in the cord for an antenna to untangle a bit, and then a simple cell. But that cord, like an umbilical, always stretched far enough to reach me and those she loved.