03:09:26 pm on
Monday 22 Jul 2024

I Kept the Number
AJ Robinson

These days we all can have quite the digital footprint. My friend Jane, in England, had a Facebook page and a web site for her knitting company. Despite her now being gone, I still see her name and picture on my Facebook page, every occasionally.

Stephen always had a lineline.

My brother, Stephen, was never much into Facebook, just not his thing and even e-mail was hard to get a reply from him. No, Steve was always about the audio. So much more personal, don't you know? He was a talker, a born realtor and used car salesperson.

Stephen came by talking, naturally. Our dad could talk non-stop for hours. There were days, during his final years, when I was caring for my dad, when I wouldn't get to say a dozen words before lunch!

So gregarious, I can't count the number of people he struck up conversations with while standing in line for a restaurant or theatre show of theme park ride. I swear, I think half the people my dad sent Christmas cards were to folks he met just like that. Again, Steve was like that.

For Stephen, it was all about the phone.

Years ago, back in the “time of the ancients,” meaning BC, before cell phones, he had a landline. He also had an answering machine.

When voicemail appeared, Stephen embraced it wholeheartedly. He created Roberta, his electronic secretary. We could always leave a message with Roberta.

By the time Stephen went cellular, Roberta had retired. The thing was, throughout all those years, all the changes and upgrades to technology, one item remained constant: his phone number. Martha's Vineyard isn't like a big city, there aren't that many permanent phone numbers needed.

When I was a kid, we actually had a party line. For those too young to remember, it meant a phone number that you literally had to share; that’s incredible, right. Anyway, Steve got a phone number and kept it. Years rolled along, technology changed, phones grew smaller and more Star Trek-like, the rotary dial telephone vanished and, yet, that number was the one constant.

I can still recite his landline number from memory.

These days, how many people know their phone number or that of their spouse? It's something you program into your phone once and forget. After all, every number has a label, a name associated with it. Am I right? You just find the name, press the little green phone symbol, and the phone does the rest. My phone does the same. My letter 'R' is full, got all the relatives stored there. Down near the bottom is the number Steve had. Every time I go to call a member of the family, I see his number and I remember two dozen conversations; I smile.

Then comes the bitter taste of grief and regret at all the missed opportunities to talk more, the messages left and not returned, and all the promises to “call back just as soon as I get a chance.” That's when I call yet another relative just to shoot the breeze, ask how they are, and express my love for them.

I think I'll be keeping his number for quite a while.




















Combining the gimlet-eye of Philip Roth with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Working, again, as an engineeer, after years out of the field due to 2009 recession and slow recovery, Robinson finds time to write. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true. His teen vampire adventure novel, "Vampire Vendetta," will publish in 2020. Robinson continues to write books, screenplays and teleplays and keeps hoping for that big break.

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