Mother’s Day, Collect

I went to college in the 1970’s. I worked fifteen hours a week, which equaled three hours a day, at ECU’s News Bureau as a Student Helper. I got my job through the Work-Study Program that was part of my Financial Aid Package. My mother wasn’t able to help me at all and my father had long been out of the picture. I struggled. I learned to live on two meals a day and I learned to take detailed notes because I could not afford all my text-books. 

One Sunday in May, when it was Mother’s Day, and I had no money for a bus trip home, and no money for a phone call home, I sat and thought about my mother. She had been crippled by polio at age three. Now she was totally disabled, although she’d worked when she could as a legal secretary. I missed her. It was Mother’s Day and I missed her. 

I contemplated things I could do to try to talk to her and the only thing I could think of was to go to the pay phone and place a collect call to her. I’d worked two years before college as a telephone operator and I knew the cheapest way to make the call. It sounded so good to hear her say “Hello” when she answered the phone. 

Then I heard the telephone operator make her announcement, “I have a collect call from Connie, will you accept the charges?” My mother answered YES! quickly and I could tell from her voice that she was startled. 

“Connie, What is it?”  she asked me . . . “What is WRONG?” 

“HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!”  I said loudly into the phone. 

“What?” her voice held slight disbelief. 

“HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!” I repeated cheerfully. 

“Did you call me COLLECT to tell me that?” she asked, as if astonished by the whole thing. 

“Yes, I did,” I replied. I was very proud of myself for solving my problem of finding a way to hear her voice and let her know I was thinking of her on Mother’s Day. 

Suddenly I heard her loud, booming laughter come across the phone lines. “Well, I’ll be . . . ” she said. 

She told me thank you and said we couldn’t talk long; she couldn’t afford the bill. I told her neither could I and that’s why I called collect. We laughed again at the situation and hung up the phone feeling better. 

I lost my mother a few short years after that. I still miss her. I’ve lived now more than half my life without my mother and the pain eases, but from time to time it becomes a sharp knife again. 

I’d say I missed her voice, but I’ve never forgotten how it sounded and I play it in my head from time to time. Sometimes it plays itself when I’m doing something and know she might disapprove or question what I’m doing. 

It would be so nice to see her again. 

If God had phones in heaven, I’d dial her up right now. And it wouldn’t be collect. 

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