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Bedevilled by phones

My paternal grandmother, a pious Irish-Canadian Catholic, believed the telephone was an instrument of the devil – and that was even before her long dead sister Ella phoned one night with a warning.

The story of that spooky 1919 call and the death that Ella foretold is family legend. It goes like this: Six-year-old Gerald ( my father’s older brother in a family of 10 siblings)  cut his foot on an ice skate. It became infected, and, in the age before antibiotics, gangrenous. He was to have his leg amputated in hospital the next day. The family, all worried about the fate of the sweet young child, had finally gotten to sleep when the phone rang. It was midnight ( of course.)  My grandmother, who usually never answered this new fangled contraption, did not want everyone to awaken again.

“Mary,” the voice said. “This is Ella in Heaven. Don’t let Gerald have the operation.”

My grandmother screamed and fainted, so the story goes, and the rest of the family found her on the hallway floor,  the earpiece dangling off the hook. Stopping the operation was not an option, the leg was too far gone. But Gerald died during the procedure.

 Ghost stories like this abound in my paternal lineage, but only one of the visitations occurred via phone.

 Naturally Grandma thereafter refused all late night calls, saying nothing good can come from them.

I think she was onto something: I’ve been bedevilled by phones for at least two decades.

In my 20s my cat, Fauve, loved to chew through telephone cords. I’d be cut off in mid-sentence. I’d rub Bitter Apple repellent or spray her with a water gun, but it remained a game for her to wrap herself in the cord and gnaw as fast as she could whenever I talked.  Once I waited on hold for 45 minutes, motionless, to seek out training tips from the vet on a CBC call-in show. “We could be cut off at any minute. What do I do?” I asked. 

“Get a cordless phone,” he said.

But cordless phones are worse, at least in my house where no one EVER puts them back on their base. “Where’s the $#@ phone!!!?” we yell, frantically lifting couch cushions, newspapers and sports gear as we can hear it ring — somewhere.

I bought two identical phones so that one, at least, might make it back to a base. We soon learned they wouldn’t charge unless coupled with their true mate. But which went where?  It took weeks to figure it out and when we finally did I painted bright pink nail polish blazes on the upstairs set and pearly white ones on the downstairs set.  So now its: “Who put the pink phone on the pearly base!!!?”

Of course, if it stays off the base long enough the batteries die completely. We once lost the dead downstairs phone for a good four months. I scoured the house repeatedly, finally resorting to Grandma Mary’s remedy: praying to St. Anthony, Saint of lost items. (And I am not even a Catholic since my father left the fold. ) “Guess what was in the pullout couch?”  Kate announced after a sleep over. (Wow, good work St. Ant!)

I won’t tell you how many trips I’ve made to London Drugs to buy new batteries for phones so dead they won’t recharge.

Being prudent, we also got tethered phones on both floors – but they root you in place. We were a host family for a guide dog in training, a black lab puppy named Piper,  who soon learned we couldn’t move and discipline him when on a fixed phone. During the year we had Piper we put everything possible chest high or higher. Like Pavlov’s dog, Piper would hear the ring, and if he saw I was immobile, take off to find a leather shoe, washcloth, kid sock,  butter dish, hair brush, or Barbie doll to devour. “Can’t talk now,” I’d say, slamming down the phone to run after him shaking rocks in a tennis ball can, a training tip to control his ravenous appetite that failed miserably. He gnawed everything, including a telephone.

While dogs can figure out tethered phones, some modern youth can’t. My sister called a friend and got her young daughter: “Can you get your Mommy for me?” my sister asked. “Oh no,” said the girl. “This phone is attached to the wall.”

Now we hardly ever use the house phones at all. Messages left on the home answering machine can sit there for days, everyone else assuming another person in the family has lifted the receiver to listen for them.  "You have ten new messages" the computerized voice almost nags when one finally remembers to check. "What is wrong with you people?!" our former friend Michael greeted us one day this past month when we bumped into him at the Moss St. Market. Three of his messages that week had still not been heard.

These days of course each of us in the family has our own cell  phone.

But OMG, I could go on and on about the bane of cell phones: the mafia-like contracts, the frustration of companies that seductively court newbies with sweet deals but jack the prices on long-time customers; the umpteen ones lost by teens that even St. Anthony can’t help find;  the one destroyed after it was dropped in a puddle;  the exorbitant bills; the overheard irritating conversations in public venues; the tyranny of never being unavailable.

In rebellion, I refuse to use my cell phone for all but the most urgent calls. ( I do rather like texting; I am a writer after all.)

But I will take a call anytime, from Ella. There is one thing I have to know: “Ella, how did you make that call? "

Because in my heaven, there are no phones.

Posted on Tuesday, June 1, 2010 at 01:48PM by Registered CommenterAnne | CommentsPost a Comment

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