26/2/2018

1 + Area Code + Seven Stages of Grief

Can you grieve a phone number?

There was a time when I had dozens memorized — both sets of parents’ homes, home numbers for all four sets of grandparents, school friends, police & fire department1, numbers from radio & TV jingles, even the time & temp number at the local bank. (Is it 50ºF? Then school won’t make us wear coats!) Back then, giving out your phone number was inviting someone into your home. Looking up a number in the phone book was a way of assuring yourself someone was there, on the other end:

Last Name, First Name Address, Phone Number.

The advent of speed dial and, later, contact cards in my smartphone, has eliminated the necessity of relying on memory for many phone numbers. My institution recently retired its old Centrex system for Cisco’s VoIP system, and with the march of technology went the convenience of five-digit dialing. Even though my number didn’t change, the mandatory addition of the first two numbers of my exchange means that, when I try to give it out, I don’t even remember my office number with 100% accuracy anymore. I have to think about it.

My dad got his home phone number when he moved to his river village in the mid-Eighties. When it is disconnected today, one of the very last phone numbers I have memorized goes dead. Dad’s been gone for almost seven years, of course, and nobody calls that number much anymore. Most folks prefer to text or call my stepmom on her mobile number. My grandfather has avoided calling my dad’s home number for years because his voice was, until quite recently, still on the answering machine. And yet, I called it one last time this morning, dialing it manually from memory, number by number:

1 + Area Code + Exchange + Dad.

So now, apart from my own mobile number2, I’m down to four others still memorized:

  • my mom’s home” number3,
  • my maternal grandmother’s home number4,
  • my wife’s mobile number,
  • and — somehow — that bank’s time & temp number.

I dialed that last one again, for old times’ sake. It’ll only reach 40ºF in my hometown today. Better wear a coat.


  1. In those pre-911 days we had separate emergency & non-emergency numbers for the police, sheriff, fire department, & first responders.

  2. I got my mobile number in 2001, in a community hundreds of miles away from where I live now. I have had this number longer than I’ve had any single home address, for longer than I’ve used any single email address. Its random assortment of numbers is nearly as much a part of me as my fingerprint. While I can’t imagine changing it, it strikes me as odd that, at some point, my wife, my daughter, and I will all have phone numbers in different area codes despite living in the same house.

  3. It was assigned when we moved back from northwestern Minnesota to my hometown in the late-Eighties, then ported from the landline to her mobile phone several years ago. At the time her number was assigned, my hometown had two exchanges. Counting mobile exchanges, it now has eighteen.

  4. Ported from the home where she lived for sixty-eight years to the assisted living facility she moved to going on two years ago.


grief


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