I probably learned it when I was five years old, a string of seven numbers that would, from then on out, connect me to home. It was my phone number.
As I grew up, I would use a telephone dial to dial that number. (Readers 35 and under will probably need to Google the word "dial" to understand what I'm talking about.) I would stick my finger into a hole corresponding to a number and move it clockwise until I couldn't move it anymore, then remove my finger and hear the scratchy-scrape sound of the dial moving back to its original position. Then I'd repeat the movement with a different number six more times until I'd finished dialing the number. I would hear the click-click-click through the telephone receiver as I dialed, then the purring of the tone as it tried to contact the party on the other end.
When I made a long-distance call, I had to add four more numbers: the "1", which told the Bell System that you were about to call outside of your area code, then the three-digit number of the area code you wanted to call, then seven more digits.
As I grew up, I dialed those seven numbers, my phone number, countless times from various places. It was usually, "Mom, come pick me up."
When I went away to college, I learned how to make a long-distance call without having to dial a string of numbers that included an area code. You simply stuck your finger in the hole on the dial opposite the number "0", moved the dial clockwise until you couldn't move it anymore, then let go, and kept the phone receiver to your ear until you heard the magic word, "Operator." Then you placed a collect call, recited the three-digit area code and your seven-digit number, and waited until the other party picked up the phone. Oh, you did have to remember to add the magic words "collect call". That way, the person you were calling got to pay for the call--not you!
These were the days of pay phones, where you had to have change if you wanted to make a call, and a large amount of change when you were making a long-distance call and KNEW that the other party either wouldn't or couldn't pay for the call. During college, I was intimately familiar with the phones on the first floor of Kellum Hall at Florida State University; then later, the pay phones in other dormitories.
Even though the numbers that connected me to home were now ten digits, not seven, I still knew that if I dialed them, or recited them, someone on the other end would pick up the phone and say, "Hi, Tina." I dialed them to tell my family of the latest football score, how I was doing in school, when I planned to come home for visits, and when I wanted them to come and get me for graduation.
I can't remember when I first used a push-button or Touch-Tone phone. I know I started using one regularly after I moved to Miami. This time, instead of hearing click-click-click as I dialed, I would push buttons and hear the electronically musical tones of each number. (I once heard a story about a man who got his phone number changed because every time he dialed home, his number, when he dialed it, played, "Mary Had A Little Lamb" and it drove him crazy.)
I did have to remember to dial "1", but as long as I remembered "1" and the area code, I could still dial the same string of numbers, ring a telephone, and get an answer on the other end. This time, I used those numbers to give out the latest news of my job, what was happening in Miami, or that I was moving, here's my new address.
I bought a Touch-Tone phone when I moved to my own apartment and connected it to an answering machine. Moving, thank God, didn't mean that I was disconnected from my family. I still had a phone, still had those eleven numbers that I could dial and deliver the latest news to my family. On a May night in 1993, I dialed those eleven numbers and told my family that I was engaged to be married.
The next year, my husband and I moved to Atlanta. I still used the same eleven numbers, and those same eleven numbers connected me to my family.
In 1998, the phone company changed my mother's area code, but it wasn't a big deal. I still had eleven numbers, still could connect with my family.
About 13 years ago, I got my first cell phone. On a cell phone, you don't necessarily have to dial "1" to make a long-distance call. So now the numbers I had to dial were down to 10. Just one less number to remember. But I could still punch in the same string of numbers--without the beginning "1"--and have someone pick up the phone.
I don't know when I dialed those ten numbers for the last time. It was either in December or January.
In April, my mother went into the hospital for leg pain. Her stay extended to several weeks and three surgeries. She's now in assisted living, and I now have a new string of ten numbers that I have to dial in order to connect me to her. Since my mother is no longer living at the house, certain services are no longer needed. My sister told me that they didn't need a phone there anymore, which is understandable.
My uncle emailed me last week and told me he'd tried to call my mother, and got a recording saying that the number had been disconnected. I thought, oh, yeah, it's because she's in assisted living now, and I made sure to tell that to my uncle.
But it didn't really hit me until a day or two ago that the number I learned at five, the number that I dialed, recited, punched into a phone, was no longer the number I used to connect myself with my family.
I don't know how it happened, but somehow, my mother's contact information was activated when the touch screen on my phone touched something else, probably the surface of one of my tables. I heard the off-key tones, then the recording saying, "We're sorry. The number you are trying to reach has been disconnected. If you think you have made this call in error, please hang up and dial again."
I disconnected. And then I realized that a part of my life, a part that had existed since 1968, was over.
No more will I be dialing those numbers that will connect me with someone who will pick up the phone.
It is truly the end of an era.
Just my .04, adjusted for inflation.