Category Archives: Sara Etgen-Baker

June 1 – Twiggy’s Eye

by Sara Etgen-Baker

In 1968, go-go boots, mini-skirts, and the mod Twiggy look were in style. Like most teenage girls of that time, I wanted to be fashionable, but I knew Mother would never agree to my wearing flashy go-go boots or bearing my knees in some mini-skirt. My best option was convincing her to allow me to wear makeup and have the much sought after “Twiggy Eyes.”

I begged and pleaded with my mother to allow me to wear makeup, but she firmly believed that no 16-year-old girl should wear makeup. Her response always was, “No, ma’am! Only ‘ladies of the night’ wear makeup.” My solution: Not eat lunch at school and save my lunch money until I had enough money to purchase makeup at the corner drugstore.

And so I did. Every day for a month, I stashed my lunch money inside a secret compartment inside my purse. For 30 days, I suffered from hunger pains in the afternoon and even lost weight with Mother never questioning either my hunger or my sudden weight loss. No matter. I was willing to suffer to have my own makeup. Finally, I’d saved enough money, and one day stopped at the corner drugstore on the way home from school and purchased the makeup, hiding it in the deep crevices of my purse.

When I arrived at school each morning, I went in the restroom and put on my makeup achieving the Twiggy Eyes I yearned for. Before going home each afternoon, I went into the school restroom and with a swipe or two of makeup remover, my Twiggy Eyes vanished, and Mother was none the wiser.

My plan worked beautifully until the day I fell in gym class and broke my ankle. Mother was called to pick me up from school. When she arrived she found me lying on a stretcher on the gym floor with my left ankle twisted to one side, broken in several places. She looked at my ankle and then turned sharply, staring at my face. “What’s that on your face?” she questioned with irritation and disappointment in her voice, and I knew I’d betrayed her trust.

We drove in silence to the doctor’s office where he set my broken ankle in a plaster cast. Once at home, I was told to hand over my makeup, and I watched teary-eyed as she tossed it in the trash.

“Never try such stunt like that with me ever again. You hear me?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

I never again tried such a mistrustful stunt with my mother. Just for the record, Mother grounded me for three months.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. 

Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

May 4 – Inside Mother’s Cracker Box Kitchen

by Sara Etgen-Baker

I learned to cook standing alongside Mother but often complained about her cramped, cracker box kitchen. “I hate cooking in here! There’s not enough room to do anything!” Mother stopped what she was doing; grabbed her wet dish towel; and snapped it on my buttocks. “Don’t be so fussy!”

Despite its cramped quarters, I loved being in Mother’s kitchen and cooking with her. The first thing she taught me was how to read a recipe, measure ingredients, and make chocolate chip cookies. The recipe was simple enough for an 8-year old; before long I knew the recipe by heart.

One day while preparing dinner, a special delivery package arrived. Mother stopped what she was doing and tore open the package. “Oh my! It’s my mother’s recipe file box!”  She gingerly opened the recipe box and sniffed its contents. “It smells just like my mother’s kitchen!”

Over the next several hours Mother and I sat at her kitchen table pouring over the box’s contents. The yellowed cards were dog-eared, stained, and written in Granny’s penmanship; the same penmanship I’d seen on the letters, cards, and notes she’d sent me. The cards were spattered with grease stains and marked with thumbprints. And the hand in which they were written had visibly changed between the first recipe and the latter ones.

As my fingers graced the same cards hers had many years ago, I remembered watching Granny while she cooked in her kitchen. She rarely used her recipe cards. Yet when Mother and I cooked in her cracker box kitchen, we often referred to Granny’s recipe cards. Frequently, though, the cards just listed the ingredients without exact quantities; and all too often the recipe’s vague language frustrated me. “Mother, what does ‘use enough flour to make stiff dough’ mean?’ Exactly how much is ‘a pinch of salt?’ What is a ‘scant of this?’ How much is ‘a spoonful?’ What does ‘simmer until it smells heavenly’ mean?

“Recipes aren’t meant to be precise; they’re merely meant to jog the memory of how to make those dishes.”

“But you know the recipes by heart so why do you keep the cards?”

“I want to study the original recipe,” she murmured blinking back the tears, “I can’t explain it to you.” She turned away from me and continued cooking.

Frequently, I watched Mother take out a single recipe card and linger over it. I was young and didn’t yet understand what the cards meant to her. Later, I realized that Mother probably just wanted to hear Granny’s voice and remember the past.

Like Mother, I occasionally long for the past and yearn to be with her. I close my eyes and find myself back in her cracker box kitchen. I re-create her chocolate chip cookies from memory; remove them from my oven; and eat one savoring the warm, buttery goodness and the delicious feel of gooey chocolate slowly melting in my mouth. And I swear I hear Mother whispering, “See! You didn’t need the recipe!”

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. 

Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

April 6 – Their Peculiar Ways

by Sara Etgen-Baker

“Wash your hands, little lady!”

“I already washed them a little while ago. Why should I wash them again?”

“You’ve touched countless things since then; your hands are dirty.”

“But Grammy,” I turned my hands over, closely examining them. “They don’t look dirty!”

“Yes, they are! The kind of dirt I’m talking about is invisible; it rides on your hands and can make you sick.  It can only be removed with soap and water. So go wash your hands!”

Invisible dirt riding on my hands?  I hadn’t heard of such a thing and didn’t understand why I washed my hands more at Grammy’s house than I did at home.  Maybe she has more invisible dirt at her house, I reasoned.  Grammy had many other peculiar ways so I chalked up her handwashing practice as another one of them.

Before disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer were available, Grammy took sheets of paper towel and a small can of disinfecting spray with her, stuffing it inside her rather commodious purse. While out and about, she used her spray, liberally coating the surface of restaurant tables, public phones, restroom doorknobs, then vigorously rubbing the area until the coating disappeared. I never questioned her ritual but found it odd and even a little embarrassing.

Even my mother had her own baffling ways. She didn’t use her dishwasher because it cost too much to run. She never threw away any empty plastic butter tubs.  Instead, she washed them and stored them in a cabinet for putting leftovers in. Eventually, the cabinet became so full that when the cabinet door was opened, the tubs tumbled out onto the floor.

Bar soap was cheaper than body wash or liquid hand soap and was, therefore, Mother’s preferred choice for washing one’s hands and body. Anyone who’s ever used bar soap knows that the bar gets smaller and smaller with each use.  Eventually, all that remains is a balled-up, dirty, disfigured, and insignificant piece of soap that’s annoyingly impossible to use. Mother habitually gathered up all these mutant miniature soaps and placed them in—you guessed it—the empty butter tubs.  Once she’d collected enough tiny soap pieces, she chopped them up; placed them in a Styrofoam cup; filled it with water; and cooked it in the microwave for 30 seconds. After drying for a few days, wah-la! A new bar of soap.

So what’s the point of rambling on about these women’s peculiar ways? Grammy was 18 when the 1918 flu pandemic began and lost a cousin to the virus making her highly sensitized to the presence of unseen germs. Mother grew up during the Great Depression and, out of necessity, learned to live prudently and waste nothing.

When the COVID19 pandemic struck, I suddenly had a new appreciation for what I thought were Grammy’s over-the-top sanitizing habits.  When store shelves emptied in the wake of the pandemic, I found myself understanding Mother’s fear of not having and respected her frugality.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. 

Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

 

March 30 – Corona Virus Chronicle

by Sara Etgen-Baker

Almost three weeks have passed since we first saw evidence of the coronavirus—people frantically hoarding toilet paper, paper towels, disinfectants, rubbing alcohol, and hand sanitizer. The next week, we watched shelves being emptied of food essentials such as eggs, bread, cereal, crackers, cheese, peanut butter, meat, bottled water, juice, etc.

“What’s happening?!*” Bill and I commented to one another. Had we miscalculated the seriousness of the pandemic? Or were people just over-reacting? I hate to admit it, but we succumbed to the fear and chaos; quickly grabbed a shopping cart, and purchased some of our frequently-used items and even some random items believing that things were direr than we realized. We wanted to be prepared.

That day even before mandates to self-isolate, Bill and I isolated ourselves in our home shielding ourselves from exposure to the coronavirus. To stop the virus’ spread, schools, businesses, restaurants, malls, and non-essential businesses soon closed. Everyone suddenly found themselves shuttered inside their homes facing a string of rainy, sunless, dreary days and negative news. The pandemic was real after all, and we hunkered down seeking solace inside our home.

The past ten days have been challenging ones for Bill and me as we came to grips with the ever-changing new pandemic reality—a reality riddled with more questions than answers. Although we’re retired and don’t get out much, we suddenly missed the freedom of being able to go wherever we wanted when we wanted. We missed dining out and the social contact we had at our favorite restaurants. During my morning walk through our neighborhood, I saw only an occasional car but nary a person was out and about. How surreal and life-altering it all was.

But today shortly before noon, the rain stopped, and the dreary, gray skies that had enveloped our neighborhood slowly lifted. I opened the garage door; stepped onto our driveway; and glanced upwards to the sky. Pristine white clouds drifted by. The concrete was warm under my feet, and I was glad to be free of my fear and the confines of being inside. I removed my shoes and sat cross-legged on the lawn running my hands over the soft green grass relishing the new growth. I closed my eyes; the warm sun on my face felt like the kiss of summer without the fiery heat of noontime in August.

I opened my eyes and watched as neighbors opened their doors and windows bringing the clean air into their homes. One by one, my neighbors emerged from their houses making their way to the end of their driveways. We all stood at the edge of our driveways many feet apart and had conversations, offered emotional support, and shared laughs. This sort of chit chat connected us to one another. And there in the midst of a pandemic, a feeling of hope swaddled our neighborhood.

CORONA VIRUS LESSON LEARNED:  There’s great power in fresh air, sunshine, and camaraderie.  And I’ll never again take those things for granted.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. 

Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

 

March 9 – Keeper of the Bell

by Sara Etgen-Baker

Ivy Morain with her husband and 13 children

When I was little, I loved everything about the start of a new school year— the swish of crinoline ruffled petticoats underneath crisply starched, frilly dresses Mother made me; slipping my feet into my new saddle oxford shoes; Mother and I rummaging our way down the aisles of our neighborhood TG&Y purchasing school supplies, then stopping on the way home at Landers Corner Store where every neighborhood kid received an empty cigar box for storing school supplies. Once home, I proudly printed my name on the outside of my cigar box and carefully placed my school supplies inside.

I can still smell the potent fumes of the rubber cement with its snotty-like consistency, can feel the wax crayons in my hand, and can imagine grasping my Huskey #2 pencil pretending to print my ABCs and 123’s on my Big Chief tablet. Nothing was more exciting than heading back to school with my new plaid metal lunch box in one hand and my cigar box filled with school supplies in the other.

Nothing, however, compared to the thrill of meeting my teachers. I adored them, hung on their every word, and wanted to be just like them.  When the school year ended, I missed school terribly. I filled the summertime void practicing school with the neighborhood children whom I corralled onto our huge front porch, my makeshift school and taught them using a small slate board Mother bought me.

One summer, Mother showed me a family heirloom—a vintage teaching bell “This bell,” she explained, “once belonged to my grandmother, Ivy Catherine Morain, who used it in her one-room classroom on the Kansas prairie in the 1890s. When your grandfather became a teacher, she gave it to him making him Keeper of the Bell.  He, in turn, gave it to me when I began teaching. If you promise to be careful with it, you may use it in your one-room classroom.” Delighted, I took the bell outside keeping it safe and occasionally clanging it to announce when my school was beginning.

When I entered college, education was naturally my career choice. Upon graduation, Mother gave me Ivy’s bell.  “You’re now Keeper of the Bell; you’re also the keeper of children’s hearts and spirits.” I was Keeper until my husband received his teaching certificate; he was Keeper until our niece received hers.  She was Keeper until her sister began teaching. She’s the current Keeper.

Each new Keeper was told the oral history of the former Keepers including personal details about their lives and careers.  Concerned that oral history would disappear, I researched and wrote more about the Keepers, making their stories more interesting.  The result was a 120-page notebook with photos and related documents.

Compiling the Bell Book was a soulful labor of love. It was also important. Why? Alex Haley aptly said, “…the family’s the link to the past and the bridge to the future.” I’m gratified knowing I did my part in linking our family’s past to its future.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. 

Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

February 10 – Sweetie Pig

by Sara Etgen-Baker

Grammy’s cookie jar holds special memories for me. It was a rather big pig, a Shawnee Pottery Smiley Pig that she named Sweetie-Pig. I was with her that Valentine’s Day when she purchased it at Titche’s Department Store in downtown Dallas. She brought it home, and together we filled its belly with homemade heart-shaped sugar cookies with red sprinkles on top. Afterward, Grammy sat Sweetie-Pig in a corner cabinet, a bit out of my reach so I’d have to ask for a cookie. When she wasn’t looking I tried sneaking into her kitchen to nab a cookie. But the lid was heavy and cumbersome and clanked when I picked it up.

She’d show up like black lightning. “No! No! Too much sugar isn’t good for you. It’ll spoil your dinner.”

I’d put on my best pouty face hoping to guilt her into giving me a cookie, but she was unwavering in her commitment to controlling my sugar consumption and my weight.

But whenever I visited Grammy, I always knew that inside Sweetie Pig’s belly were generous sugar cookies with sparkly sprinkles of sugar on top, soft and moist; precious gifts that didn’t even have a handwritten recipe, made straight from her heart. Grammy was the same way, no printed directions with her. What you saw was what you got, with those special touches like sugar cookie sprinkles on top; she used to add to everything from family gatherings to fresh homemade bread with melty butter and cinnamon sugar on top to teaching me how to appreciate classical music and admire Monet paintings. Those memories are inside that cookie jar today sitting in a safe spot in my home.

Nowadays, it seems indulgent and impractical to give over precious countertop space to a chubby piece of crockery when a sealable plastic bag will do the job better. But I can’t imagine my adulthood without the promise of the mist-shrouded Cookies of Yesteryear; and when I get the urge, I lift Sweetie-Pig’s faded and aged lid taking in all the wonderful memories of long ago, those sweet smiles of my Grammy and her homemade sugar cookies.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. 

Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

January 6 – Where Cardinals Fly

by Sara Etgen-Baker

Gravel crackled under our tires as Bill and I crept down Old Mill Road, a meandering country road on the outskirts of Collin County. The countryside stretched before us like a great quilt of golden, brown, and green squares held together by the thick green stitching of the hedgerows. The sun overhead was radiant, its light bathing the scenery in a welcoming glow. We slowed our car to a near stop and rolled down our windows, taking in the unfamiliar sights, sounds, and smells.

Hay bales dotted the landscape.  A tractor kicked up dust in a nearby field.  Wildflowers, dandelions, and purple thistles covered the road’s shoulder, filling the drainage ditches with an array of color.  We heard the whicker of horses, the braying of donkeys, and the burble of water running along a small stream.  We inhaled, the sweet aroma of trees, grass, and earth filling our nostrils.

The gravel road turned abruptly, replaced by a narrow, two-lane county road. We continued driving, finding our way into downtown Anna where we discovered renovated historical building—a turn-of-the-century general store, the First Christian church, and an old train depot.  We paused, both feeling inexplicably drawn to the quaint little town. We drove a bit further until, much to our surprise, we saw a housing subdivision under construction on the outskirts of town.

“Who would’ve thought there’d be a subdivision out here in the middle of nowhere, Bill said.  “Let’s take a look.”

We entered the sales office where a folksy, sales rep greeted us and walked us through the models. We found a floor plan we liked and without hesitation put down a contract on a home, believing we’d been guided to do so.   After settling in, we often sat on our front porch, amazed at the number of cardinals congregating in our trees.

One afternoon, my aunt dropped by. “What a coincidence,” she exclaimed.  “Your great, great grandmother, Rebecca, moved to Anna with her husband and their daughter, Sara Virginia, around 1895.  You’re Sara’s namesake.”

“What?! I certainly never knew.”

Weeks later, the historical society placed a historical marker within our subdivision just one-half from our house documenting that the land and surrounding area was the original homestead of Collin McKinney, a pioneer who helped draft the Texas Declaration of Independence and later the Constitution for the Republic of Texas.  We’d known for years that Collin McKinney was my husband’s great, great, great grandfather, but had no idea we were actually living on the land that was once his homestead.  Another coincidence? Perhaps.

I’m convinced that living in Anna was part of a grand, synchronistic plan nudging us to return to the land of our ancestors. As for the cardinals. They still congregate in our trees, bearing witness to this quote: When a cardinal appears in your yard, it’s a visitor from heaven.  I’d like to believe that Rebecca, Sara Virginia, and Collin McKinney are such visitors, and I delight in seeing them.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. 

Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

 

 

December 2 – It’s Fruitcake Weather!

by Sara Etgen-Baker

Tears stream down my cheeks, splattering upon the keyboard as I write this.  ‘Tis the holiday season, you see, and I delight in the memories of my childhood yuletides.  One such memory stands out as clearly as the glittering angel atop my Christmas tree.

November’s blustery winds arrived weaving frost spider webs onto Mother’s kitchen window. “Oh, my,” she’d invariably say, staring at their intricate designs, “It’s fruitcake weather! I’ve much to do!” Yes, ours was a blessed fruitcake house.

I can still see Mother and me driving into town lugging home packages of my favorite things: candied cherries, candied pineapple, figs, walnuts, pecans, raisins, dates, and candied citron.  Back in her kitchen, we chopped the nuts, the candied fruits, the dates, and figs, blending them with the heavy batter, and dumping the glorious mixture into fluted cake and loaf pans.

Three hours later, the cakes emerged from the oven only to be wrapped in cheesecloth; doused in peach brandy; then stored in every nook and cranny Mother could find.  Every few minutes, it seemed, I pestered her.  “Are they done yet, Mother?”

“No, not yet. They must age.”

After what seemed like months (It was really only three to four weeks.), she’d proclaim, “The fruitcakes are ready for wrapping.”

Out came the rolls of wax paper, aluminum foil, ribbon, and the mailing cartons.  Having bundled up our packages of cheer, we took them to the post office.  On the way home we dropped off mini fruitcakes to neighbors, teachers, and friends then tootled home, warmed with the knowledge we’d brightened the Christmas of friends and family.  My head sank into my pillow dancing with visions of folks unwrapping our fruitcakes; sniffing the cinnamon, cloves, and peach brandy; and eating a slice of our dense, sweet fruitcake topped with a dollop of thick whipped cream.

Folks felt blessed by Mother’s thoughtfulness, and soon our mailbox was stuffed with cards and notes of gratitude.

Even now, I love eating fruitcake and don’t understand why they’re underappreciated and maligned, often being referred to as bricks, paperweights, or doorstops.  They also bear the brunt of many holiday jokes. I remember the first fruitcake joke I heard.  “The worst Christmas gift is fruitcake,” cracked Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. “There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and year-after-year people send to one another.”

“Sure, Johnny, considering how long a properly made and stored fruitcake can last, it’s quite possible. The alcohol alone acts as a preservative, allowing people to keep or regift it for years.”

If only I’d known. I would’ve kept some of Mother’s fruitcakes; and when the holiday season arrived, I’d retrieve one from my freezer; thaw it, and re-douse it with peach brandy.  I don’t have Mother’s fruitcakes.  Instead, I have our fruitcake-making memories. I’m heartened that Mother loved making those fruitcakes, and I’m touched with how thoughtfully she involved me in a decades-old family holiday tradition, a tradition I revisit every year when it’s fruitcake weather.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. 

Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

 

October 21 – Walking Backward

by Sara Etgen-Baker

Backwards Clock

As a small child, I loved walking backward and did so every chance I got. One
day, I even challenged myself and walked backward almost the entire distance from my house to my elementary school. I’d walked forward along that route hundreds of times. But when I walked it backward, suddenly everyone and everything looked different somehow—a difference I didn’t understand or couldn’t quite explain.

Something shifted inside me, too,—something that made me different from the other kids. The following year I entered junior high and gave up on being different and on walking backward, quickly forgetting the perspective that moving backward gave me.

Sand FootprintsNow I’m 67 years old and find myself walking backward through my life. My friends call this walking backward my life review. Life review isn’t simply about assembling the details of my past. It’s about finding meaning in even some of the
ordinary events. Suddenly everyone I knew and everything I experienced looks different somehow. I re-experience the emotions—the joys and sorrows—that accompanied many of the events of my life. I face some of the people with whom I interacted and become acutely aware of the kind acts I committed as well as the pain I inflicted on others. I soon realize that every word, thought, and action—no matter how small—affected everyone and everything.

Sometimes I ponder, Would it make a difference in the way I lived life if I lived my life in reverse? Suppose I was Benjamin Button, old first and then young again. Would I enjoy the fact that I could do mundane, everyday chores because I knew what it was like to watch others sweep the floors from my own nursing home bed? Would I visit elderly family members and neighbors more
often, especially those who are housebound or in a nursing home? Or just send a card or letter?

Postage isn’t all that high when I realize how important mail is to a lonely person. Would I stop my morning walk long enough to talk with my neighbor, the mother of five boys, knowing she yearns for adult conversation? Would I resist the ugly urge to retaliate…insult for insult… after one of my husband’s cutting remarks? Would I look past my stepdaughter’s edginess and recognize the pain and fear behind it? Would I put myself in the other person’s shoes, especially when I have a complaint about a product that didn’t perform as I expected it to? Do I really have to be nasty to the person I am relaying my dissatisfaction to? Would I respect and honor somebody else’s truth as much as I do my own?

But I’m not Benjamin Button, and I can’t live life backward. Yet, the past is always there to look back upon, to remember the joys and the sorrows of my life, and to reflect upon how I lived my life. And I can mindfully live in the present, applying the lessons I’ve learned from walking backward.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. 

Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

_____________________

October 7 – Remembering the Landline

by Sara Etgen-Baker

 

Though landline phones may be on the endangered species list, in the 1950s and before, they were the lifeline of communities. For nearly 100 years, the landline was how we talked with someone who wasn’t in the room with us.

We had only one telephone, a black rotary one, that sat on a built-in phone cubby. There was no caller ID, no robocalls or telemarketers intruding in our lives. So when the phone rang, we were curious. The caller could’ve been anybody, but in truth, the caller was usually one of four or five people who had our telephone number. Morning calls were certain people; probably neighbors and evening calls were relatives. No one called before 9 a.m. or after 10 p.m., and we lived in fear of any call after midnight.

The phone didn’t ring a dozen times a day, and its sound was a kind of minor event. We kids didn’t pick up the phone and answer it, nor did we make a phone call without first asking permission. Father didn’t answer the telephone; answering it fell under the duties of the homemaker. When Mother answered the telephone, we didn’t listen to her conversation, but we knew by her tone whom she was talking with. When we were teenagers, my brothers and I were allowed to make limited telephone calls and answer the telephone.

There’s a wonderous landline moment that doesn’t exist today. The telephone rang after dinner one evening. My brother answered the phone. “Hello,” he said. After a moment, he hollered loud enough to notify the entire household, “Sara, it’s for you; a phrase that is long gone because no one shares a phone anymore. Using his phone etiquette, my brother asked, “Who’s calling?” Then he yelled, “It’s Robert,” a name that had never been said aloud before in our house and the sound of which piqued my parents’ interest. I sprinted to the telephone cubby. “It’s Robert,” he shouted, “that boy from school!” I yanked the phone from him, ignoring his satisfied grin. “Hello,” I said softly. Robert needed to know what time he was picking me up for the sophomore dance. I was tongue-tied and embarrassed, answering him in monosyllables: yes, no, okay, sure, yes. Bye.

Standing at the phone cubby in a household with a landline, the news was now public. I had a crush on Robert, and he was taking me to the dance. The village had been alerted.

There are no such shared moments like these in our homes today. No one stops and listens to the phone ring, wondering who the caller might be. Robocalls, caller ID, and telemarketers have killed our curiosity. Cell phones and instantaneous texting have made the landline extinct. Yet, I yearn for those days of removing the phone’s handset from the cradle, listening for the dial tone, placing my fingers in the number hole, rotating the dial and waiting for that almost magical connection to be made and hearing someone on the other end answer, “Hello.”

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.