I’m not much of a phone person. I never enjoyed holding a phone up against my ear and having a conversation with someone without being able to see them. I suppose this idiosyncrasy has something to do with my inclination to respond to people’s body language. Either way, talking on the phone is something I’d rather not do.

As an ‘old millennial’, this was a much bigger deal in the 80s and 90s, when modern forms of communication like texting and video chats didn’t exist. Back then, if I wanted to speak to someone outside of my household, I had to call them. I remember feeling anxious waiting for the other person to pick up. Would we have anything to talk about? Would I be able to carry a conversation if the dialogue suddenly died? 

My mothers and sisters, meanwhile, never seemed to have that problem. I remember my mother, in particular, whose casual conversations with my Aunt Sheryl and my Bubby would last for hours. My sister Elaine, meanwhile, made good use of her private landline (yes, that was a big deal in the 90s!). Finally, one of my earliest memories of my younger sister Dana, is a photo of her with a Zack Morris phone pressed up against her ear. 

Two exceptions to my phone aversion: Zaida and Papa

Zaida, Papa, Baby David

Despite my telephonophobia (I just learned this was actually a thing today!), there were two people I was always happy to speak with: my grandfathers – Saul Smith (aka Zaida) and Martin Carsley (aka Papa). Here’s why:

When I was six years old, my mother started gently encouraging me to call my grandparents more often. She may or may not have realized how much I dreaded being on the phone with anyone, but she knew the bonds between grandparents and grandchildren are sacred — feelings she shared with her own grandparents. I finally relented on a Thursday evening, picked up the phone and called Zaida. Zaida’s first words were “David, you’re a doll for calling me.” 

Zaida and David

I remember how good I felt at that moment. Zaida was happy to hear from me — something I never knew was possible, until Zaida showed how much he appreciated my small gesture of phoning him. I don’t remember what else we spoke about that day, but I do remember that brief chat leading to a series of future phone conversations, where we spent most of our time lamenting about the Montreal Expos. All it took for me to always be excited about talking to Zaida on the phone were those six initial words – “You’re a doll for calling me.”

With Papa, I’ll never forget the change in his voice the second he realized who was phoning him. Each time I called, Papa answered with his signature baritone “Hello”. I would respond “Papa?” and his reply would be an encouraging “Yeah!”. I can still hear the change in his intonation in my head because that small gesture made me feel like I made his day by phoning him.

Over the years ‘Yeah!’ turned into ‘David!’ or ‘My boy!’ but the intonation remained consistent. Our often hour-long phone conversations always began with an excited, appreciative greeting from my grandfather who made it known that he had all the time in the world for me. Like Zaida, Papa embodied gratitude with his actions.

What we can all do this week

There are many different methods you can take to show gratitude, but I think a good starting point would be to start every telephone or video call with a message of appreciation. You can be as overt as Zaida, or more subtle like Papa. Either way, do your part to make sure the other person knows and feels how thankful you are to speak with them.

For me, I’m grateful to have been blessed with role models who were as emotionally intelligent as Zaida and Papa. I can only hope I live up to the high standard they set for me.

David with grandparents gratotide

1 Comment on “Gratitude over the Phone

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