Phone-322-4805 ( A LEGACY STORY)
It was a simple phone number. To me, it was not so simple. That phone number had a lot of history attached. It reminds me of the popular internet story that circulates and is used in funerals nowadays about the “dash” in between the year you are born and the year you die. The dash contains the pertinent events and truths of your lives. Somehow, I recently made a connection between these two; the dash and the phone number..
The phone number connection was first made back in 1959. My sister and her husband moved from the south to an apartment right across the street from where my parents and I lived. This was the number given to them by the phone company. In those days where we lived there were still live operators placing calls and we even knew a couple. One was the wife of a chiropractic school classmate of my dad’s. She often worked the evening shift and had placed many calls from our house to the south when my sister lived there. It was always fun because she had a deep southern accent from the east coast and trying to say Okmulgee, the complicated name of our Indian home town when we called my sister was really funny. The operators in the home state would laugh and chide the northern operators when they mangled the name, yet this friend was the only one who truly learned the name and could place the call though even her accent made it almost un-identifiable. When my sister and her husband moved north and placed their first calls home she laughed and said, “Oh no, now I will have two households calling that place”.
Over the years, many calls would be made from that number and to that number from the town with the strange Indian name. It would be used to tell my sister our biological dad was coming for a visit and going to stay with her. Only later, after the visit would we learn of the consequences of that well intended visit. He had become sick with a reactivation of tuberculosis before his visit surprising him as much as anyone.Tuberculosis was something my dad suffered with when he first married my mom more than thirty years before. He had gone in to an inpatient sanatorium and spent almost two years there. He had half of one lung removed during the treatment. During that time mother lost her first baby, a boy, and shortly after dad was released, her second a girl.
Now with this modern day visit, he had exposed all of us and we had to be tested. To this day I react to the skin test for T.B. and have to rely on chest x-rays. He returned to Oklahoma and eventually, returned to the T.B. sanatorium.
A few years later my sister would get a call on that number to come and be with our dad in a life threatening surgery to extract one collapsed lung and part of the second. TheTB had damaged it beyond repair or healing. My sister used that phone to call our mother and tell her he might die in surgery and was all alone.
Divorced from him for nearly ten years due to domestic abuse, my mother still could not be in the same room with him and not shake. My sister had just had her first baby and he was six weeks old and was dad’s namesake.. She didn’t have the money for the trip and she didn’t have a way. My mother called her back to say our step dad felt Mom should go with her and stay with him since he had no one. Many calls to that number were made while he clung to life and frequently edged to the brink of death for two weeks. Mom would later say she watched death creep in and almost claim him, then back off.
Then a happy call, he made it and would survive.
Once when visiting my sister she and her husband got in a fight. She went to the phone to call the police and I saw him rip the phone out of the wall and threaten to hit her with it. I began to shake all over with flashbacks to my childhood days when my dad would rage at my mother. Then I saw my husband walk over calmly and take the phone in his hand and talk my brother-in-law down. We four had in common childhoods of family violence.
I was there when that phone rang and it was an old school mate of my sisters from our home state of Oklahoma. He was coming through on business and wanted to visit. He was a real character and with her being three years older than me, I hadn’t known him all that well. The thing I remembered most about him was his involvement in a court trial in our hometown. It seemed that he and four other guys were tried for gang raping a girl in their school. It was a story of a group of young guys sowing their oats and drinking grain alcohol, moonshine whiskey. They sweet talked a gullible girl into going for a ride with them.
The cutest guy in my sister’s school had arrogantly testified in court . When asked what he did when they had the girl out of the car and on the ground, he loudly bragged “I f—-d her !” then laughed. The boys all stuck to their story that she wanted it and not surprisingly for those times, it was ruled “he said, she said”. The perpetrators were high school athletes and the victim’s family was just ‘poor wolf hunting, chicken fighting ,white trash’.
Her dad left the courthouse a broken man and she went through life a used and abused woman. I didn’t want to see the abuser when he came through, town to see my sister so I was grateful that phone number’s use had forewarned me. My sister and her friend stayed in touch by that phone number for years though she would have her own personal misgivings when she had a more ‘personal understanding and empathy’ for the victim in the years ahead. My sister was raped in her home and came to know the fate of a victim who never received justice by seeing her perpetrator pay for the crime.
Over the years there were calls of all levels of importance that traveled the wires to that number. In 1969 however, my sister and her husband had outgrown their modest house and had four children. My mother decided to play musical houses one fall. She and my step-dad bought a building that housed a wonderful chiropractic clinic with a retirement apartment above it. Handicap accessible with an elevator chair, it was the perfect solution to mother’s declining health. She would be right above the clinic for dad to check between patients instead of half an hour’s drive.
My sister and her husband would move in to their house, which was a nice four-bedroom home with two bathrooms, large yard, double garage and a more up-scale neighborhood. My husband and I would move into my sister and brother in law’s house, which was near the school where my husband taught. Everyone would live happily ever after (supposedly).
One snag in the plan was that the phone company which had become a technical,’ no personal concerns’ company, would not let my sister transfer her phone number with her. It was a different technical region for the dial system and she would have to get another number. You would have thought she was giving up her first borne child. There was wailing and gnashing of teeth about losing the number and the possible contacts that might try to reach her. Though she and I fought like cats and dogs, she prevailed on me to please keep the number so all would not be lost. My husband wasn’t too keen imagining all the calls and irritating people who might call any hour of the night, but he relented. (No wonder he was her favorite person). So 322-4805 became our home number.
Thirty eight years later, technology has struck again. My husband and I are emptynesters. We each have our own cell phones with our own minutes plan. The only calls on that number are the people paid to harass you about buying things, voting some way, or changing your services. Paying money to receive unwanted calls from telemarketers did not make sense of any kind. We decided to disconnect our landline and use that money to upgrade our internet service.
Now if I couldn’t understand my sister’s reaction to losing that number all those years ago, I certainly was shocked by my children’s reactions. Two of them were mortified. How were their old friends and classmates going to find them in years to come? We had taken away something of their childhood that apparently was very meaningful. They each called us on our cell phones to let us know they were unhappy. All except the younger one, the daughter who gets credit for being the instigator of the whole thing by talking us into it. She shared the bottom line dollar value or making the change.
Of course, later there were the doctors trying to notify us by automation about appointments we’d made months ago. They wanted us to remember that we now needed to show up for these appointments, but we didn’t get the calls. Estranged family members were offended when they found out being disconnected didn’t mean we died. Their interpretation was that we just cut them off without notification. My sister’s children, now adults in their thirties and forties, felt disavowed. They couldn’t imagine why we would have ever given up that number that everyone knows. It was like an unspoken security knowing you could call if you ever wanted too. Cousins from far off didn’t know what to make of it and everyone was against it, but it was too late. 322-4805 had gone the way of new technology.
Many months after the disconnection I got a message on my cell phone. There was a long elaboration about what the caller had gone through to find me and the subject was positive. It was from a nonprofit group I had written a grant for nine months before and they’d just received a check for a new computer lab. They were elated. But how could they tell me? I was no longer listed in the phone book so I had caused a great deal of work for them to inform me of the good news..
It did give me pause as I thought of all the things that number had brought into my life over the years. News I would be grandma for the first time (and subsequently ten more times). Calls from employers who hired me. The call my sister had breast cancer; that my biological dad had finally remarried; and it was to a nurse’s aide he met when he had that surgery for the collapsed lung and nearly died. Later I would get calls about both of their deaths. Tragically, it was that number that my sister called for me to come when she was raped in her home and later I received threatening calls on.
It was the number our beloved cousin used to speak to my sister moments before we took her to the hospital for the last time. They hadn’t spoken directly to each other in almost fifty years, but the number connected them again before my sister went to a place where there is no need for a number.
Imagine all of the things a lifelong number would have meant to you. When we disconnected that number, it had been 48 years and a couple of months that the number had been in our family. Almost like a friend. I think I will call it eventually just to see who has it. I might even tell them how long we had it, but probably not. I used to get many crank calls from patients and addicts I worked with as a nurse in mental health; people who didn’t like my son’s politics, and most of all, I think it’s time the number found its own way into someone else’s life. I will feel sorry for them if they meet some of my less desirable acquaintances and former patients; but I will always cherish the number and how it was a thread through the tapestry of my life.
The point of the story is that there really wasn’t a point to the story. Just a day of reflection and realizing that so many things in life eventually end; even us. It’s a gradual process if normal aging happens, and it’s funny the little things that catch your attention as change happens. I just felt like sharing it with people I love. It doesn’t hurt to realize that even inanimate things and technology can leave a legacy in our lives.