please hang up and try your call again

Can’t you just smell the magnolia?        So good.

Where I’m from in Texas you don’t need to dial an area code to call someone, you just plug in their seven digit phone number. I didn’t even know that you ever needed an area code… small town.

When I was probably about 10 years old, my mom finally let me spend the summer with my cousins in Houston. And by the summer, I mean a week. Back then a week felt so long! So I packed up my stuff, jumped in the car with my uncle and for the next five hours I dreamt of the adventures I’d have in the big city!

I thought of the huge magnolia tree in my uncle’s front yard that I could climb to the very top and see downtown Houston, or the pine cones in his backyard that don’t exist down south where I’m from, or the fluffy squirrels that run back and forth on the powerlines. Fluffy squirrels wouldn’t make it in south Texas, too hot.

My uncle had a real address, just a few numbers and a street name. My parents’ country home had a rural route address, then a PO Box. It was only when I got to high school that our little town grew enough to give us a “real” address.

I don’t remember speaking to mom after I got to Houston. I want to say it was three days before I thought to call her, but that probably isn’t true. I’m sure I spoke to her intermittently throughout the week, during the day, for a few seconds to say hi as my uncle took me on my next great Houston adventure.

It was late one night when I wanted to talk to her. I missed her a little bit and I wanted to hear her voice. I picked up my uncle’s phone and dialed her seven digit number. The operator came on instructing me that I was trying to make a long distance call and I needed to dial the area code, then the seven digit number.

Area code? I’d never heard of it.

I exhaled. Trying not to panic. I hung up the phone.

I picked up the phone. I dialed again, the seven digit number, again.

The operator came on the line again, the recording, informing me that I was trying to call a long distance number and I needed to dial the area code. I hung up the phone.

Suddenly, the little bit that I missed my mom turned into my missing her immensely. And what was previously an early evening suddenly felt like it was midnight. And what was previously a quiet house was now me, alone, in the middle of the night, in a big scary house with no way to call out to my mom.

I panicked. And then I started crying at my uncle’s breakfast table.

Not two minutes later, my uncle walked in and found me crying at his table with the phone in front of me. Earlier that day I was a big brave girl, adventuring the big city not even missing my family. Now, I was defeated.

My uncle laughed and asked what I was trying to do. Too proud to admit that I missed my mom and that I had panicked because I didn’t know how to make a long distance call (I didn’t even know what long distance calls were!) I tried to hide my red eyes and whimpered, “nothing.”

Do you want to call your mom, he asked me.

“I guess.” I shrugged. My uncled dialed the phone

“Hello?” my mom said.

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