Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Nanaphone

Some of you may remember this big plastic beast of a device called a rotary phone. You know, the kind of phone with a clear plastic circular piece over a roundabout of numbers and letters, that you stick your finger in and rotate around until it hits the stopper piece on the right hand side and noisily rotates back into place. I can distinctly remember the rotary phones in our house. We had a green one downstairs, a white one in the kitchen for a while, and a beige-colored one in my mom's room. I can also remember how much of a pain in the butt it was to dial our own number because we had not one but two zeros in it: 356-4004. It took forever for that rotary to make it around both ways from that zero. I was trying to remember why we would even call our own number from inside our house on those rotary phones, when I was reminded of the trick my mom discovered which served us well: when you call your own number, your phone would ring. No. Wait. That can't be right. That makes no sense. Wouldn't you get a busy signal? I can't believe I can't remember. What number was that?! We called it so many times, on so many days, to wake up my mom from her bear-like slumber. We'd let it ring and ring and ring, and even then it would take multiple poundings on her door or nudges on her shoulder.

Well, whatever that number was, I somehow ended up with one cracked rotary phone in my house. I must have decided, when I saw it at my mom's collecting dust, that it would be a fun thing for Kaya to play with one day.

For the past year or so, it's been exactly where I placed it when I first brought it home: on her shelf, in her room, collecting dust as a book end. One day, though, a few months ago, it was clearly ready for resurrection.

"Hey, Kaya," I said, rocking in the rocker next to the shelf, "willst du Nana anrufen?" [Want to call Nana?]
Many of you may be aware that my mom died last June.
"Yeah," she said, seemingly eager at the opportunity.
So, reaching my arm down to the bottom shelf, I pulled the handset off the base and put it up to my ear.
"Hi, Mom. Wie geht's? Ja? Wirklich? Super. Was machst du? ...uh-huh...yeah...toll. Willst du mit der Kaya sprechen?" [Hi, Mom. How are you? Really? Sweet. What are you doing? uh-huh...yeah...great. Do you want to speak to Kaya?]
Kaya was looking at me the whole time, eager to have the phone herself. When I handed her the handset, she got a huge smile on her face.
"Willst du hallo zu Nana sagen?" [Do you want to say hi to Nana?] I asked her.
"Ha..ll...o," she said, quietly, with trepidation.
"Willst du ihr sagen, was du heute machst?" [Do you want to tell her what you're doing today?]
Silence. Smile. More silence. And then, she handed the phone back to me with a "Mama...!" and went sauntering off, quickly. Clearly, the Nanaphone was still a bit too much (and all phone conversations in general, for that matter).

A few days ago, however, Kaya dragged the burly beast off the shelf and laid it on stool.
"Willst du Nana anrufen," [Do you want to call Nana?] I asked her.
"Ja," she replied, picking up the handset.
"Sag mal, 'Hi, Nana'," [Say 'hi, Nana'] I told her gently.
"Hi, Nana," she quickly responded.
"Willst du Nana sagen, was du heute gemacht hast," [Do you want to tell Nana what you did today?] I asked her.
"Rutschen," [slide] she said, following my lead.
I smiled. How could I not. My daughter was speaking German with my English-speaking mother who exists only in our imaginations.
"Sagst du der Nana, was du jetzt machst?" [Tell Nana what you are doing now?] I continued.
"Buch wesen," [read book] Kaya replied.
"Was noch erzaehlst du der Nana?" [What else can you tell Nana?] I asked her.
Unfortunately, the details are too fuzzy for me to remember all of what Kaya said, but I clearly remember her going on a bit about some activity that she'd done, staying in German the whole time. After a while, she'd turn the receiver around, talking into the ear-piece, where one, on a functioning rotary, would normally listen.
"Sag mal, 'ich vermisse dich, Nana'," [Say, "I miss you, Nana"] I continued, hoping we could play this amazing game all. day. long.
"Ich vermisse dich, Nana," [I miss you, Nana] she said, slowly and quietly, in the sweetest tone you can ever imagine.
"Sag mal, 'Tschuess, Nana'," [Say 'bye, Nana'] I added, knowing our Nana-time was nearing an end.
"Tschuess, Nana," [Bye, Nana] she said, after the cue, and quickly handed the phone back to me with a, "Mama!"
"Tschuess, Mom," I told her, holding the handset up to my ear. "Ich hab dich lieb. Ich vermisse dich viel. Es war so schoen mit dir zu reden." [Bye, Mom. I love you. I miss you tons. It was so nice talking to you!]

Who knew that this cracked piece of plastic could create a bilingual Nana who was merely monolingual as we knew her? Who would have guessed that this relic from my childhood would follow me into adulthood, carrying both dreams and nostalgia of all that was and ever could be in regards to connection and love?

I certainly didn't. I definitely didn't plan on resurrecting my mom in our old, classic phone. But after writing this, and giving it as much thought as I have, it's obvious that there's no better place, no better way to enliven my mom for my me and my daughter. We lived on the phone in our house. We had them growing out of our ears, was the running joke for years. We'd be on the phone for hours, all of us, with friends, with each was just our way. So, had I been 'on it' that day, watching the dust collect on that rotary, I would have known that this was the natural destiny for that aging piece of history that was our phone.

The photos above are of Tamara, at age 2 (Kaya's current age), and of Karen (Nana) on the phone with her late brother, Roy.


  1. Sweet, indeed!

  2. Oh wow, what a moving post. I am in tears. Thanks for writing!


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