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Dear That’s Life: Can You Hear Me, Caller?

June 26, 2013

mobile phone in darkDear That’s Life,

I think my Bubby called my cell phone last shabbos.

The first problem is that she did not leave a message so I do not know for sure. The second issue is that she died 14 years ago. Ironically, the issue of her calling on shabbos is actually not a problem at all.

While many would contend that their bubby was the best in the world, that’s only because they may not have known mine. Tootsie Eisenberg, as she was affectionately known, was a lady amongst ladies. She and my Poppy enjoyed a storybook love and marriage that served as a paradigm for all who knew them. And they absolutely, positively adored their grandchildren.

Rarely does a day pass that I don’t think of her in one way or another. It could be seeing a yellow Shop Rite bag that triggers a memory, as she used them to double wrap food before sticking it in the freezer. Or maybe it’s that when I call my daughter’s name that I think of Bubs, because my daughter is named for her. One of the nicest parts about carrying on a name is building in that daily opportunity to reflect, even for a moment, on a loved one you’ve lost.

I went to Israel to see her just days before she died. Frail and far from the once vibrant woman whose powerful, loving hugs could actually squish your internal organs, I showed her a picture of my baby. “I did good,” I said, trying to be cute. “Right, Bubs?” “You did well,” she responded. That was the last thing she ever said to me. Yes: right before she died, my Bubby corrected my English.

Since her passing, I have been convinced that Bubby has contacted me from beyond. These occurrences have come in the form of strange coincidences or random events that simply have no business of ever happening otherwise.  I hadn’t heard from her for several years but in the past few months, I have heard from her twice – one time being last shabbos morning when I’m convinced she called my cell phone.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Coincidences are just coincidences and reading into them is foolish. Anything can be seen as a sign, if that is how one chooses to interpret it when, in fact, it may mean absolutely nothing.

Aren’t signs there to be read by those who have their eyes open – by those who want to see? If that means that I see my Bubby in places that are actually meaningless simply because I choose to see her there, then that is my choice. I believe that her love for me and mine for her extends beyond mortality. So, sue me – I miss my Bubs.

These two most recent events, however, are hard to just write off. Even the greatest cynic or naysayer will note these examples are weird, even if just to themselves. The bottom line is that both actually happened and more than one person was around when they took place. Read into them what you want, or choose not to read into them at all.

A few months ago I was looking through a few old photo albums in our home office with some of my children. The office has two doors, one that leads to the hallway and one to the bathroom. Sifting through the pictures, I came across one of Bubby, and remarked to my kids that I had not “heard” from her in a while. “Hi, Bubs, ” I said, while looking at the picture and running my fingers across her face. All of a sudden, she spoke.

“Hello?” said a voice. And with that, we froze.

Busy trying to catch our breath, we looked nervously at each other. The bathroom door then unexpectedly opened. My daughter – the one named forr my Bubby – walked into the room. She had been the voice we heard and was awaiting a response, but we were stunned silent. No one knew she was in there and no one could figure out why she said “Hello” of all things. This was such a strange utterance for her to make being that we weren’t talking to her or even aware of her presence. But there we were, having all shared the same experience, unable to articulate exactly what happened but agreeing that there was only one answer: Bubby.

Ah, yes. I hear the non-believers in the crowd rolling their eyes, ignoring the sign, brushing it off as a coincidence. That, again, is your choice. This next story, however, is harder to ignore.

I rarely, if ever, leave my phone in the kitchen over shabbos to charge. Even rarer is when I forget to shut it off. Last week, however, I did both and my phone remained in my kitchen, plugged into the wall, on. It was on shabbos morning that it rang, startling me as I sat on the couch. If the house phone rings on shabbos or on a chag, we attribute it to a telemarketer or maybe a wrong number. But my cell phone? That was simply too odd and I leapt off the couch to investigate.

The number was not familiar, but the city and state where the call originated from was. My mother grew up in Bayonne, N.J., the place where my grandparents raised a family and where my Bubby lived most of her life. It is the city we associate with my maternal side of the family, often joking that all roads lead to Bayonne. It seemed that someone from Bayonne was calling me that morning on a day she knew I would never pick up – and there was no voicemail left by the caller in an effort to have me call back. But of course there wasn’t.

I didn’t bother dialing the number back. There was no point – I knew who had called, even if the call was a wrong number. The sign was as clear as day.

I saw my mother the next day. She usually ignores me when I say crazy things, or when I am convinced her mother is sending me messages from the next world.

“Bubby called me on shabbos,” I said. “What?!” she replied in confusion. I explained.  “See?” I said, showing her the call log on my phone. “A call from Bayonne – on shabbos!” I smiled. “It’s got to be Bubby,” I said. She, however, wasn’t buying it. Not because she did not believe my grandmother was sending me signals – we never even got that far. Glancing at the log, she quickly dismissed my entire theory.

“That wasn’t even her number,” she said, handing me back the phone.

Nope. You just can’t make this up.

MLW