I remember when everyone had a phone in their home. A phone connected by phone lines to telephone poles. When the phone rang it was because someone you actually knew or did business with wanted to talk with you. You had to be pretty well off to have a mobile phone and they were rare and big cumbersome things. It hasn’t been all that long ago, either. All of my nieces and nephews were born, although only one of them was old enough at that point to have their own child, but now all of my great nieces and nephews have their own cell phone and live in homes without landlines as that old phone system is now called. I wouldn’t be surprised if my great-great nieces and nephews have cell phones – well, perhaps they’re still a little young.
I’d never even heard of robocalls until I returned to California five years ago. That could be because the last three or four years that I lived in Nashville, I’d only used my landline for my business fax machine and no longer had an answering machine on it. I like to think salespeople were calling and got the high pitched squeal of a fax machine. As a salesperson myself, you’d think I’d have some mercy for them, but I didn’t. Seventeen years ago I’d started selling Real Estate using a pager and the shared computer in the office but it wasn’t long before Realtors had cell phones and their own desk computer and/or laptop.
Back in California, in Daddy and Mother’s house, however, there is still a landline and an answering machine and we get from three to six or seven robocalls a day. Some of them are recorded messages and some are real people on the other end who want to sell something or collect money for some “good” cause.
“May I speak to Cri-ley Dean?”
“Crile.” I correct them. Like Lyle but with a C and an R. “Mr. Dean died recently.” They express some sympathy and then start in on their reason for their call.
Other times the caller asks for Zelda or Mrs. Dean and I answer in the affirmative. This is just so much easier than taking the phone to Mother, watching her fumble with the remote to mute the sound of the TV and then listening to her try to hear what they’re saying, get a word in edgewise and attempt to get off the phone without caving in and promising to send money. Then after she finally hangs up she’s irritated at all the nonsense calls and fusses about how no one she knows ever calls her anymore.
It’s just easier to take the call myself and get rid of them but how long can I use the excuse that Mr. Dean died recently and our income has been drastically reduced? It will be four years this April since Daddy died. The reduced income bit is still true but the bizarreness of the half-truths swirls around me like the fog of a make-believe land where you can say anything and have it be true.
The easiest thing is to not answer so we’ve taken to looking at the caller ID and if it’s an 800 number or a number we don’t recognize, we let them talk to the answering machine. And Mother fusses again about all the nonsense calls and how no one she knows ever calls her anymore.
If it were up to me, I’d just cancel the landline and handle everything by cell phone but it’s too soon to do that. For one, thing, whenever I’m away from the house for several hours, I call to check on Mother and she needs to be able to call for help if need be. She isn’t interested in a cell phone and would have difficulty working one, but most of all, the landline is a tether for her that ties her into the familiar past, when she and Daddy made calls to their children and friends called and Daddy handled the business of the house and life in general on the phone. This summer it will be thirty years that they’ve had the same number.
Time continues and that make-believe land where anything can be said and be true isn’t all that different from the dreams of yesterday that have become our reality for the world is a different place than it was when Mother and Daddy, about my age now, moved into this house with excitement and hopes for the future. A future that they could never have foreseen would be littered with robocalls.
As for me, while Mother is tethered to the past so am I. My days move in a half-life of hope for a future of experiences beyond these walls and a half-life of caring for Mother and her house. One day that tether will sever, Mother will be gone and what will be left will be just my life. Will it be in time to be out in the wide world or just in time for my own waning years, pestered by robocalls? Only God knows and there I must leave the unknown. In His hands. Because He who loves me best will be here with me. With or without robocalls.