By Terry M Pace (2010/2020)
806-894-6372: Those are the numbers I knew all of my life until I was up in my 50’s and both of my parents had died. This number connected me always to home. Mom and dad got this phone number I assume in 1953 when they moved into the house they built on their farm and shortly after they married. This is the number my folks called from when they reached out to family and friends to let the world know of my older brother’s birth in 1954 and later to do the same for me in 1957. This is the only number I knew by heart until I was 21 years old.
This very same 806-894-6372 was called by countless family and friends, in good times and bad to pass along their joys, tears, excitement and sadness, laughter and memories. It was called to share the hard news of deaths and the miraculous news of births, the sweet news of marriages. I recall one momentous and horrible phone call when I was about 6 years old. We had returned from a vacation in late summer to the cool mountains of Colorado and as soon as we were home, my father called his mom, my grandma Cora Pace to let her know we were home, only to hear the stark unbelievable news that my cousin Susan then a teenager of 16, the daughter of my father’s brother Cecil – had been killed in a car wreck on the highway between my hometown of Levelland Texas and the high plains city of Lubbock. My father was more shaken then at least in my six- year- old eyes than any time that I knew him. He hung up the phone and headed right to the car to go to town to his brother’s house. He was crying with sobs and dripping tears. It terrified me to see my dad so distraught and this was my first conscious experience with human death and made little sense to me as I think I believed then that it was only in old age that people died. The telephone seemed then to me a powerful thing that connected us to both the happiness and sadness in the wider world outside our own home.
As I grew older the phone became something of fun, to play with. We were on a party line into my teenage years in the early 1970’s. At one time there were six families on the line with a lot of teenagers, mainly teenaged girls. So I became their phone stalker when I was like 8-12 years old. All one had to do on a party line back then was softly pick up the phone and listen in. I learned how to pick the phone up very carefully so as to not be detected. But it was difficult to remain undetected for long, so often I would be found out and the verbal lashings and threats I received from those very sweet neighborhood girls are simply unreportable now!
During my teen years, that phone and that number became the connection I had when I courted my future wife. Either she would call or I would call almost every night just to chat of the days or to plan tomorrow. I recall by then we had two phone outlets in the house, so the most privacy was actually in my mom and dad’s room. My parents would often be watching TV then so I would lay in their room on the floor with my legs propped up on my mom’s sewing machine cabinet and talk with Elaine. I have an image of myself then that has stayed with me, laying on that green shag carpet with a warm feeling in my chest about hearing the voice of my love. I was so skinny, so innocent (or at least ignorant), so full of hopes, but always on the look-out for fun and a way to express my physical energies through farm work or sports. I see myself there on that floor, phone in hand, boots still on, jeans and a t shirt, not much to me really, but a little spark of electricity.
One of the funny things about our phone when I was growing up was how loud it rang. My dad could only hear out of one ear so everything, phone, radio, TV was turned to very high volume. When the phone rang at our house everyone within 50 yards knew it. If one was not accustomed to this ring it could be quite startling. Of course the phone itself in my parent’s home was until very late in years the classic desktop rotary dial type with the one traditional ring tone that anyone growing up in the 50-s – 70’s would likely recognize.
Once I left home at age 21, the same 806-894-6372 became my most common connection with my parents and home. During all the years between when I was age 21 to when I was 50, that number meant mom and dad. As I moved around for school and then work to Nebraska, Minnesota and Oklahoma, it was reassuring and empowering for me to know my folks were just an 806-894-6372 dial away. We usually talked once a week. They began the tradition we established by usually calling me on Sunday afternoon or evening over many years. As they aged and I began to have so many activities even on Sundays then I began to be the one to call them whenever my time allowed within the Sunday afternoon or evening time frame. Of course during almost all of this time, a long- distance call costed money, of which we had little, so we protected and cherished these calls, they took on a sort of sacredness in my own mind. Mostly we talked about ordinary life; health, family, friends, home, farm, weather, work and later their grandkids! These calls with my parents almost always settled most of the anxieties I may have had over the years, when all we did was chat and I could hear their familiar voices and laughter. I learned to picture them and the house as we held those sacred talks (no face time or skype needed), so the calls tied me back deeply to home, childhood, peace, simplicity and happiness.
After my dad passed away in 2002, my mom remained on the farm, living alone as a widow until she passed on in 2008. We kept up the same call tradition over those six years, though I admit that for a while mom and I both made unplanned calls in the middle of the week for the extra company in our griefs. But I remained rooted in Sunday evening calls with mom and by then cell phones were the norm and mom had one she used as a back- up. But I would call the old land line number. Then with the mobility of cell phones, I recall calling mom when I took my usual Sunday evening walk to collect my thoughts for the week. Beginning this ritual with a call to mom was always calming. I think I have missed few things more than being able to make those Sunday evening calls. I am unsure that in this time of every form of instant communication that people still have these types of experiences. I hope they do.
As my brother Ricky and I closed up the old house that we had known all our lives, the house our parents had built and made into our family home for over 50 years, my brother had the duty of calling the phone company to cancel the phone line. He later told me that was one of the hardest things he had done as a part of grieving mom’s passing and selling the old house. I believe this loss of connection, tradition and comfort is an emptiness in me that cannot be filled, but I also remember and rejoice over the goodness of most of my telephone memories and all those times that came and went.