My mom turned off her landline.
For 50 years, my parents had the same number: 898-2446.
Now, it’s gone.
“Mom, did you get rid of the landline?” I asked.
“Yes, they wanted an extra $38 a month to keep it. I don’t need it since I have a cell phone,” she answered.
It was a business decision. A simple, not-much-thought required, easy to make, logical business decision.
For me, it was a feeling of loss.
I would never again call the number that thousands of times I had dialed (yes, dialed) and later punched into whatever phone I was using to call my parents.
I thought about all of the different voices that had been carried over that line. Family, friends, co-workers, church members. Many no longer with us.
I remembered dialing it to deliver good news.
“Mom! We’re pregnant. You’re going to be a grandma.”
“Dad, what’s top dead center for the timing on the distributor of my ‘66 Mustang? And can I just file these points or should I replace them when I replace the condenser?”
“I’m getting a divorce, mom. Can we talk?”
I thought about when I called collect from the deck of the Queen Mary during an ‘80s trip to California.
“Dad, you’ll never guess where I’m standing.”
“Mom. Thank you and dad for paying for my college. They just told me I’ll graduate in May. Please invite my grandmothers.”
“Son, come home. We’ve lost your sister.”
“Johnny, come home, we’ve lost your father.”
My parents were late adopters to answering machines, but they eventually got one. My dad’s voice was on it. My mother left it there after he passed.
I smiled when I called and she wasn’t home. There was Pop (I called him Pop) asking me to leave a number.
Now, we’ve all left that number.
Mostly, the calls were just general conversations. But for half a century, there were 10 digits I could use from anywhere in the world to reach the people who mattered most to me.
And, in a $38 instant, they were gone.
I started to offer to pay to have it turned back on. But mom was right. Why? Cell phones make more sense. They’re portable and do a lot more than just allow people to talk.
But sometimes you just need to talk. And the act of picking up a handset and calling 898-2446 was comforting. I knew that love and comfort were always about to pick up the phone and be glad to hear from me.
Losing that number was like losing another member of the family. I was surprised at how the news of its demise hit me.
I thought about the next person that will be assigned the number. Maybe they’ll be young and use it for 50 years like we did.
I hope so. Because for me, the answer to the question, “What’s in a number?”
For our family, it was a lot.