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Making Conversation With Answering Machines

Let’s face it—we live in a world of faceless communication. Answering machines and other wireless wizardry substitute real voices, not to mention impersonal emails take the place of handwritten letters. Think about it–phone tag is now considered a sport or human interaction, and I’m guilty of playing the game. As a matter of fact, if I dial someone’s number and a real person answers the phone, I’m disappointed because I’m not in the mood to make real conversation anymore. That’s why I like to call people in the middle of the day when no one is usually home. I get by with a message that’s short and sweet: “Hey, it’s Ellie. Please bring a bag of pretzels for the school party tomorrow. Thanks-bye!”

My answering machine is my best ally. For example, when I don’t want to talk to a solicitor, I let my answering machine do the dirty work for me. When the phone rings in the middle of dinner, my answering machine screens my calls and let’s me decide when I want to talk and to whom. My husband actually programmed different ring tones to identify frequent callers. If we hear church bells, it’s Grandma Ruth. If we hear a croaking frog, it’s Uncle Kevin.

The answering machine is also a reliable friend. When I come home after a long day of running errands, the red flashing light greets me without fail. My friend Amelia (not her real name) is so comfortable with answering machines, in fact, that she regularly has lengthy conversations with herself, only for me to endure later when I hit the play button. In fact, in the time it takes her to say her schpeel, I’ll empty the dishwasher, boil spaghetti, and fold a load of towels before I eventually hear a beep. I don’t mind long messages because I feel like we catch up with each other that way. Besides, nothing insults me more than an answering machine that hangs up before I do.

Nowadays, everyone wants immediate gratification and convenience, and each generation wants a faster and easier way to reach people. For me, answering machines and emails are necessary evils. I’ve become so lazy that I email my neighbor across the street instead of knocking on her door. And the best way to get my husband’s attention is to email him at work.

The other day, I discovered something rare in my mailbox. In the pile of catalogs and bank applications was a lovely, ivory-colored note card with my full name handwritten on the matching monogrammed envelope. I could tell this letter was something special, so I carefully examined the foreign object before I even read a cursive word. The old-fashioned fringed edges reminded me of a lost piece of correspondence that my mother might have written long ago. I felt as if this piece of paper was a treasure that belonged in a glass display case at the museum of sociology.

It was comforting to read something that wasn’t typed on a computer or abbreviated for a change. Turns out that a charming lady from the Lights of the Jewish Special Needs wrote me this letter, graciously inviting me to speak at the organization’s annual Spring luncheon. Needless to say, I wanted to respond to her flattering offer right away. Fortunately, she wrote her phone number and email on the bottom of the page. Since this grandmother-on-the-go wasn’t home, I left a message on her answering machine.

“Mishegas of Motherhood” is the creation of Ellie S. Grossman, a St. Louis freelance writer and stay-at-home-mom who never stays home. Her stories are inspired by the real life of her family, including her two children, toy poodle named Luci, and her husband, but not necessarily in that order. Feel free to send any comments, prayers or recipes to ellie@mishegasofmotherhood.com.