Sunday, February 10, 2008

Saved Messages

The robot-guy on our message machine warns that we have three minutes, forty-five seconds left for taping. He sounds stern. I know the time is short, but what am I supposed to erase? Friends complain, “Your machine is filled up. I couldn’t leave a message. Is there a problem?”

There is no problem. But there are too many messages I can’t bear to delete - cherished voices sending love, cheering me on, reporting good news. I have listened to the entries that have made the cut despite numerous screenings in an effort to pare back… and still I cannot push “erase.”

I won’t delete Casey’s slurred message from January 2004, “Happy New Year, Mom and Dad!” She was in college and, bless her, had thought to call her aging parents in the midst of her drunken revelry.

I suppose the robot-guy thinks our son’s Father’s Day greeting from 2005 is expendable, but in Tucker’s, “Hey Dad! I thought I might catch you before work,” I hear my boy smiling; I can see him smiling as he speaks to the machine.

Would the callous automaton have me delete my parents’ gleeful voices, giggling as they warble, “Happy Anniversary to You,” in 2006? I think not. In fact, when Mom and Dad called on my birthday in April, launching into such a robust “Happy Birthday” song that I cried and grinned all the way through, I begged them to call back so I could record it.

I will not sacrifice Dad’s message - made “Wednesday, 5:39 PM,” according to the robot-guy - thanking us for his Father’s Day card last June. My father’s obsessed with turning out lights; heaven forbid I should leave the den for a quick snack or a trip to the bathroom. I know I will return to a dark room. The protest, “Dad! I was only gone for a minute!” has been lodged more times than I can count.

So, when I found a card at CVS that depicted Thomas Edison’s son admiring a light bulb and quipping, “Cool invention Dad. I can’t wait to leave the room and forget to turn it off…” I laughed aloud. It was perfect.

Dad loved the joke and chuckled through his message: “Dearest Lea-Mice, this is your tired old Dad. It has given your mother and me great amusement that you would send a Father’s Day card of such extraordinary insight and perception.”

I saved Elvita’s triumphant call announcing that she passed her citizenship test. For over a year, we worked together at Mercy Learning Center in Bridgeport preparing for the examination. Through Elvita’s appreciation of our rights and freedoms and her study of American history, I re-learned much I’d forgotten. How many Americans, so fortunate to have been born here, would say, as Elvita did in her message, “I am so happy, so excited! I am an American citizen!”

A solid ten minutes of saved tape-time are devoted to my sister-in-law Deb, Aunty Cam and my parents, calling to compliment my writing. When I despair, thinking, “Who would read this crap?” I turn to the machine to bask in their accolades. I push “skip,” “skip,” “skip,” to message number eight (Deb) or number fourteen (Cam) in search of loving cheerleaders to shout down my inner critic.

The robot–guy probably smirked at one message from Casey. She had called, she said, because she missed us so much, and I prized the opening endearments. I hadn’t listened to the full message since first she phoned, but while writing this piece, I let it play through. I had to laugh as it unfolded – or rather, unraveled. After all the “I love you’s” and “Miss you tons,” she seemed to be wrapping up, when, “oh, oh, oh, I almost forgot. I’m running out of grocery money. Could you send some?”

Despite the dismay of the robot-guy, I’ve preserved two of my husband’s calls, left as he headed home from work. One says, “Hello my dear! I’m on my way! Love you to bits and pizzas!” The other is a nice example of Dave’s impression of Triumph, the comic rottweiler puppet, belting, “Yo Baby! How you doin’!?”

Having said all that, I acknowledge the problem of tape running out. This machine has a job to do. There are friends, relatives and tele-marketers dialing in to record current events. This black plastic box, so modern and efficient with its buttons and red light, is not a memory-collector.

But it is a voice-collector. Where a photograph freezes a moment, a face, a forced-for-the-camera smile, in a voice the whole person springs, living, to mind; the heart behind the taped message apparent. I have plenty of pictures of my grandmother, Byeo, but they are as flat and dead as she is. I sense her presence more fully in letters where she wrote, “Best luck and bestest love.” I run my finger over the words and can feel the impression where the pen left her mark….but I can’t remember her voice.

Dave and my kids are indulgent of my wish to save messages, but they ask, “How long do you plan to keep them?”

“Forever,” I would say, if I were to answer truthfully, but I shrug and respond, “I don’t know.”

Dave thinks that my hording of voices is morbid - that I am thinking too much about loss. I tell him it’s a thin line – imperceptible - between treasuring loved ones and worrying about losing them. Aunty Cam is ninety-one. How much longer will the robot-guy capture her voice? Mom and Dad are in their seventies and, for me, their voices are an audible hug. When the real thing is gone, I’ll be able to hear them with the help of my message machine.


DSylvestro said...

I LOVE this! I can relate to it all as if it were my OWN house and my OWN family... my wife does the EXACT SAME THING with our message machine!

Nice job getting this set up, m'dear Lea-Lea - it looks great and I can't wait to keep abreast of all your postings.



Deb said...


Easy to access even for a techno idiot like me. Your piece was warm and endearing, I can identify, I do the same. keep up the good work, keep them coming.


Joanie said...

I loved rereading this one, Dearest Lea. My own machine has the same full belly, with heartfelt renditions of Happy Birthday from you and Dave in the mix!

This blog thing looks like a great way to get your word out. I'm looking forward to a weekly check-in.


Casey said...

Mommy!!!! It works it works! you're so upon the times! Are you gonna be like K. the blogger in Cosmo? That'd be cool. Only not really, because it's cosmo and you KNOW what goes on in Cosmo, so that'd be a little weird if my mum was writing stuff that belonged in Cosmo. So can you not be like K. The blogger in Cosmo? I like your writing so much better. Love you bushels and bundles.

Michele said...

I admire the way you treasure the simple things in life, you bring them to the surface thru your writings and remind us all that they too are important. We do take those "little things" for granted. Thanks for sharing and now you can share with many many more.........good luck, great idea. Will look forward to future posts.

carmela said...

Wow did it!...yipeeeee...
So proud of you...and I do love this piece.
Can't wait to read more!
xo C

gail said...

You have reminded me of one of our most precious memories. The answering machine has long since died, but the tape has been preserved. Mike was 2, Ben was 4. We were away for the weekend- the first time ever.The boys were in the care of a loving neighborhood girl, and we called to check in. Mike hadn't yet worked with a speech therapist, and he dropped the first and last consonants of most words, making it difficult for us and nearly impossible for others to understand him. Imagine our sweet, sensitive, loving, blond headed, 2 year old..concerned for our well being asking in a small pleading voice "is day foo day?". (Is there food there?) I want to reach out and hold him close every time I think of it, but this soon 18 year old, 6ft 1 inch self, would just smile and say, "Oh, Mom", and then walk away leaving me holding onto my memory.

Art said...

This is very cool, and a great way to reach your fans, who read a piece and then say 'Yeah, that's what I meant!' Being able to comment also helps relieve the nagging hurt I've felt at never having had one of my phone messages saved on your machine.

I hope you post often. Do you think the world is ready for 'locked in the bathroom'? Your Renfrew fan club loved that one.

Side note to gail: 'day foo day' almost made me 'cwy'.

side notes to David, Deb, Joanie, Casey, and Auntie Clam: 'Hi, guys.'

Lea said...

Hi Gail and Otie!

Gail, I love your story...and I'd never thought of one of my stories leading to the sharing of other people's stories here...what a wonderful ripple effect!


tootsielala55 said...

As always you are awesome! You have the incredible knack of writing in a way that makes me feel that you are here with me, that we are having coffee and pancakes at te Blue Bird, there is snow on the ground and there is hope in the world.

Thank you for your talent and for sharing it with us.
hugs and hugs,

PS...have you thought about making a tape of the messages so you can erase and get new memories? Just a thought...

Lea said...

Hi Ruth Ann!
Yes! We did tape the messages after I'd written this piece...but I still can't bear to erase them all. I'm so used to having them there on the machine so when I breeze through, I hear a snippet of Casey's, Dad's or Tucker's voices...and they ALWAYS make me smile!


Anonymous said...

Oh, Lea! I had to laugh reading this. I remember having to scroll through those saved messages while sharing your home with Fuzz, Raven, and the ghosts. While Jeff and I did not understand the need to have 13 saved messages on an answering machine, listening to one full run through made it so very clear. I can't help but think I will be guilty of a full tape myself one day...


Anonymous said...

Great Piece Lea! Although sad for me in the realization that I don't clearly call enough, or at the very least leave memorable enough messages. For years I've tried to rack up my presence of real estate on the fridge...Thanks now I have to strive to gain my place on the answering machine!

Bonnie said...

you are such a breath of fresh air-I wish I had your talent....Happy
Spring and keep the words flowing.

Anonymous said...

I am in awe of your ability to make even the most common of life's experiences sound wonderful! As I read through each of these pieces, they made me laugh out loud, smile with a memory, or get teary. To be able to tap into other people's emotions with your words is a true gift. Don't stop - I want to read more!
See you soon.

Unknown said...

Lea, I just read this first blog and feel like I've sat in the kitchen having a long-overdue chat with you. You have been in my thoughts often during the past few years. I've stalked Casey and Tucker on fb, hoping for a glimpse of you, but nary a one. (I had to remind myself that parents are the last thing young folks include in fb posts!) So I finally googled YOU! I am delighted to find your blog. I have started at the begining and intend to read every word; when I reach the present, I plan to call for a good long chat in person. Reading even this one entry already reminds me of how much I love you. Lynn