Long distance

"I'm on the phone long distance, Mom used to say. You didn't interrupt when your parent was "talking long distance," unless you or your sibling was bleeding from an artery or barfing in a center pivot irrigation spray pattern on the carpet. We didn't interrupt for linoleum, no matter what.

I imagine my grandma sitting down in her wooden rocking chair, placing her feet up on the hassock, and picking up the receiver of the basic black rotary dial desk model. The lamplight is golden. Moths flit outside the screens. A print resembling Gainsborough's "Blue Boy" hangs over the itchy horsehair sofa. Grandma tells the operator she wants to place a long distance call, and after a little chat, gives the desired number in a combination of letters and numbers.

Long distance was for birthday wishes and for emergencies. Birthday wish calls were "placed" after the rates changed at five. Emergency calls were later in the evening, probably after our eight o'clock bedtime. Mom would stop the loud dishwasher mid-cycle. Dad would sit at the dining table "talking long distance" on the black rotary dial wall phone. We knew to play quietly in the living room, then to get changed quickly into our Huckleberry Hound pajamas. If a parent was "talking long distance" we knew we would get our goodnight kiss and tuck-in after bit.

As a newlywed thirty years ago, my whole local telephone bill was $7.48 a month. We rarely called my in-laws "long distance" because it was so expensive to call. Our few far-flung friends received and responded to hand-written letters sent via the U.S. Mail!

On the phone with Dad as I am nearly every evening. We chat about his meals and my students, our weather, and his home aides. We decide any day no one pees on their Velcro shoes is a good day.

We chat, glad to be connected by one flat fee for unlimited long distance. True, the monthly bills for my landline and for cellphone service for myself and two sons, is a huge chunk of my budget. Then there's the cable internet charge for staying in even more constant contact with legions of friends, coworkers, relatives, and sons.

Dad and I chat, and a fly circles my desk, landng on the sliding glass door. Skwoop! Without thinking or pondering the squandered long distance pennies, I reach over for a vintage National Geographic map of Hawaii and swat that bad boy against the glass. In one fell swoop I've smote/swat/away what might have taken 6-7 days to communicate by mail. I must be in the zone to get a fly on first try.

At Grandma's we would be thinking about a little dish of vanilla ice milk with some chocolate syrup...

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder

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