The other day I made a phone call to a large corporation and my call was immediately transferred to the Pre-recorded Pacification of Permanent Hold: “All of our representatives are currently busy helping other callers. Please remain on the line and your call will be answered in the order that it was received. All of our representatives are currently….”
As I sat at my desk, phone pressed to my ear, a familiar hollow feeling started growing in my chest and I had an urge to drop the phone and run.
I stayed on the line and completed my phone call but the experience of being “on hold” bothered me. Talking to my wife and a few trusted friends helped me to deal with “the phone call”, but what really sparked an understanding of the feeling I had was when I read Sweet Mother’s post, What Rye Bread says About My Past. She told some of her childhood stories about her Great Grandmother and a deep memory of my Grandmother rose to the surface: Grandma was sleeping facedown on the rug.
When I was between 3 and 4 years old I stayed at my Grandparents farm while my parents worked during the day. My Grandfather worked in a steel mill, so it was just my Grandmother and me at home with snapping turtles downstairs in the basement and assorted cats, dogs, and chickens in the yard.
One day I woke up early to the false dawn of a Fall morning. The house was unusually quiet, there were no sounds of breakfast dishes being washed or food being prepared. I walked through the house to find my Grandmother and see what she was doing. To my left was her sewing room and it was there that I saw her stretched out on the floor, facedown, arms to her side.
I sat down and patted her on the back, the same way she did for me so many nights at bedtime. Grandma was sleeping soundly and I sat quietly and watched the shadows on the wall slowly brighten and march down the wall and around the room as time slowly passed.
At some point my Grandmother woke up and turned her head to me. Dried blood ran from her nose to her chin, her voice was weak and she talked in short spurts of 2 to 4 words at a time, “Grandma doesn’t feel well.”
“Aunt Jane will call.” My mother’s older sister, Jane, was a local school teacher and always called her mother on her lunch break.
“You can answer phone.” This was a huge responsibility because I wasn’t allowed to use the phone unless a grownup said it was OK and handed the receiver to me.
“She will call at lunchtime.” I couldn’t tell time, but I knew about lunch.
I divided my time between sitting with my Grandmother and going to the dining room and staring at the phone, reviewing how to use the device and planning what I was going to say.
“Tell her to come home….right away…Grandma is sick.” I sat in front of the phone with a hollow feeling in my chest, my heart was racing, and my throat was tight.
The sewing room was dark and the other side of the house was brightly lit when the phone rang. I picked up the receiver on the first ring, put it to my ear and said, “Grandma is sick. Come home now.” Then I hung up the phone.
My Aunt Jane reacted immediately: she called an ambulance, arranged for someone to take over her class, and drove to her mother’s house ASAP. My Grandparent’s farm was quite aways out-of-town and my Aunt had a lead foot so she arrived just ahead of the paramedics.
I got my first ride in an ambulance (in a rainstorm, no less) and my Grandma got the medical treatment she needed. That afternoon a surgeon successfully removed her gall bladder and straightened her broken nose.
Awakening to this incident with my Grandmother has been a blessing. In the future I plan to use the phone speaker or ear buds when I am in a situation that requires a waiting period on my part. At least I will have two hands free to get something done while I “remain on the line…”
Thank you, Sweet Mother.