Today at the nail salon I happen to notice I have a voicemail on my phone. I don’t recognize the area code. I Google it and see it is a Florida area code. I settle back in the chair, feet soaking in the hot water and dial voicemail…waiting to hear the message. A soft southern accented, slightly quavery voice begins to sing.
“Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday dear Master Gunneryyy. Your sister loves you… and so does Leeza.” There is a pause and then the voice says: “I may have gotten the day wrong. Well, if somebody’s listening to this, I’m not crazy, I’m just ninety. God bless you. I love you.” End of message.
I giggle and tell Tina. She laughs “Aw, you should call her back.”
I wait until I leave the noise of the salon and am standing in my driveway at home to call. It’s been so dreary the past few days and the sun feels good on my face. The phone rings a few times and then picks up. I recognize the voice. Before I can say anything, her answering machine picks up and we both wait patiently until it finishes, just like my own grandmother and I would do when I used to call her. I explain who I am and she is understandably a little confused.
“Is this Christina?”
I explain again.
“Oh. I was trying to call my brother who lives in Jacksonville, NC”
“I live in Jacksonville, NC too. Your brother and I must have similar numbers.”
“My brother is 89 years old.” Her voice sounds wistful to me, as though she can hardly believe her little brother is that age. I see in my head a photograph of my own grandmother with her brother and sister from the 1920s; their little booted feet, their faces serious. “He’s a retired Master gunnery Sgt. He fought in three wars.”
I tell her my husband is also a retired Marine. We chat for a few minutes and then she thanks me rather formally, calling me ma’am and telling me she was glad she was close to the phone and was able to take my call. I tell her to take care and we say good-bye.
After I hang up I stand there for a while next to the car. Maybe it’s because I lost my last grandparent a year ago in December; my grandfather who was 90 and a World War II vet, but I suddenly feel transported to the kitchen of their house in Florida. The phone with the over sized numbers hangs on the wall. All our numbers in Gram’s handwriting are there on a manila folder tacked to a corkboard. I am filled with such an intense longing to hear their voices, my eyes tear up. Happy Birthday Master Guns. God bless you. Your sister loves you and she’s not crazy, just ninety. I wish I could hug you both.