It’s 6 AM and I’ve been awake for two hours, huddled under the covers to mute the light from my phone as I flick through the news, Instagram and email. I play a round or two of sudoku to exercise my brain and then try to remember what day it is. Where I am.
It’s Thursday. I’m in Toledo.
Pat’s still asleep, so I google the origins of “Holy Toledo!”
holy Toledo! – This exclamation of surprise refers to Toledo, Spain, which became one of the great centers of Christian culture after its liberation from the Moors in 1085.
The year is 2020. No one knows where I am. Why should they? I’m tethered to the mothership. At some point today, one of our 3 kids will text.
Where are you?
I’ll respond, “Holy Toledo.”
The cell phone has changed the game.
When I was a kid, we criss-crossed America on epic road trips with no more than our AAA spiral-bound notebook. Our route was highlighted in yellow marker, the directions meticulously transcribed. My sister and I sat in the backseat and entertained ourselves by flipping through the pages to measure our progress. Now and then, we’d hand the book up to our mother who would coach my dad through a series of tricky turns.
It was just us, hurdling across the plains, singing songs, playing I Spy, fighting like feral cats. We were completely isolated with nothing but our wits to entertain us.
It was dreadful.
When we returned home, my father would place a white projection screen in the den, dim the lights and flick through 100 slides for all our neighbors—who were also my dad’s family.
“Here we are on the rim of the Grand Canyon.”
“Here we are in Sequoia National Park.”
“Here we are in Yellowstone.”
My mother-in-law used to say, “If my mother could see the world now, she wouldn’t believe it.”
The ability to feign interest in a trip by double tapping on an Instagram photo in the wee hours from a hotel in Toledo. The world really is a wonderful place.
And yet, for as boring as those slide shows were, I loved snuggling with my grandmother, knowing at the end we’d sit around the dining room table, tell stories, laugh and eat cake.
Those pre-cell phone days weren’t that long ago. Yet it’s hard to conjure that life. Of course, it wasn’t all snuggles. Driving hopelessly lost in DC after moving my daughter into her apartment. Dashing to the drugstore after vacation to have five rolls of film developed. Searching for a pay phone to check on our eldest back home as Pat and I carted our two younger kids on our own version of an epic road trip.
Once, I was in Armonk, New York for a two-week class. On Saturday, I decided to take the train into Manhattan, eat in Little Italy and catch a play. This was before cell phones, so I called home from my room phone to alert my family that I’d be gone until quite late. My mother-in-law answered. “Have fun. When you get back, call and let the phone ring one time. It doesn’t matter how late. Then I’ll know you’re safe.”
We call my mother-in-law Sandy Lou. I’m thinking about this story now because we are in Toledo on the way to her memorial service.
When I returned to my room in Armonk that night, I sat on the bed, phone in hand. It was past midnight. Surely Sandy Lou was sound asleep. She hadn’t survived raising five kids by sitting up worrying. Nevertheless, I dialed, listened for one full ring, replaced the receiver and went to bed.
Today, I’d simply rifle off a text—“Made it.”
She might have seen it that night or the next morning. Technology has allowed us to push out information that can be consumed as needed—be that flying down the highway or tucked into our beds.
But to me, “made it” merely gets the job done.
There’s so much more encapsulated into a lone ring at midnight. It’s startling, a foregone commitment to a piercing inconvenience. A lone ring says: I remembered you. Thanks for caring. I’m OK. You can rest easy now, Sandy Lou.