What’s in a number anyway?

Well, it finally happened. My parents in Charlottesville, Va., took the plunge and abandoned the only home phone number for them that I’ve ever known.

Now when I call the old homestead number, instead of hearing the comforting voice of Dad or Mom, I get, “Were sorry, the number you have reached is not in service at this time. If you need assistance, please hang up and dial your directory-assistance operator.”


Keeping up with the times, my parents have opted to use their cell phones to stay in touch with the world and vice versa.

I understand, because my wife and I have been doing that for years now. My children do not have landlines. Frankly, I am not sure where you can actually buy home phones today.

My, how times have changed.

Silly though it may be, letting go of our home phone number feels like a member of the family has passed away. Way back when, accessing the outside world from this number was via a party line at first, then a private line. And like everyone, we had a (stick your finger in and dial) rotary phone and then, finally, a highfalutin push-button phone.

Through it all, this faithful electronic friend relayed sacred family moments, both joyous and heartrending, for more than 60 years. It was always there to hear our confessions and to see our soft underbellies.

It never judged us. It was a perfect listener and always gave us the last word.

Our world was made smaller because of our home phone.

I don’t ever recall our faithful friend being out of service for any reason.

Believe it or not, I remember actually talking to an operator, a real person! We’d call her at all hours of the day or night (for free) to get a phone number, the time or the temperature.

This faithful sentinel was there for Mom to call the fire department after two little boys playing with matches accidentally set the woods on fire.

She also relayed to Aunt Faye, on this line, the news of those two little boys getting their backsides spanked by a very upset father.

I never played with matches again.

Back in the days when dads were not allowed anywhere near a delivery room, my father learned about my birth and that of my brothers and sister via this reliable friend.

This was the number that rang at 3 a.m., telling us that Grandma Quillon had just passed away.

This was the number I dialed to inform my parents about the birth of each of my children.

I was called from this line and told of the passing of our pet cat Kitty-puff.

This was the number I dialed from to talk to my sweet wife (then my girlfriend) every night after 11 p.m., when the long-distance rates were cheaper.

This was the number a relative called to tell Dad to turn on the TV to see what those “bastard terrorists” did to America on Sept. 11, 2001.

This was the phone number I used to call my first cousin Richard, to tell him the joyous news that I had just gotten my driver’s license.

All of us kids called this number to tell Mom and Dad that we would be a little late getting home from the prom.

Mom made us practice reciting our telephone number over and over. She wanted to make sure we could recall it in case we got lost or needed to call home.

So, what’s in a number?

Well, I could fill volumes. ...

Good-bye, (434) 973-3219. You were a faithful, reliable friend, and you will be sorely missed.

Thanks for always being there.

Robin L. Quillon is the publisher of The Tribune-Democrat in Johnstown. Pa. He can be reached at rquillon@tribdem.com. CNHI News Service distributes his column.

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