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It was noon time, and I was baking. The phone rang, forcing me to rinse my flour-covered hands before picking up the receiver, after I could actually locate it. I am old enough to believe that phones should stay where they are put and not ramble around the house like feral cats. Telephones should be connected to the wall, a few scattered around the house so that we might easily locate their windy cords and answer them.
I do own a cell phone but everyone in my life knows that if you want to catch me, try my land line. The cell phone does accompany me when I am out but by the time I hear it, and dig around in my purse to retrieve it, the person on the other end has usually given up.
So I answered the phone hurriedly and without much thought. I was quick enough to notice the number flashing on the screen and it didn’t look familiar. Who had landed up in the hospital now? Age gives one such a cheerful perspective.
It was a wonderful surprise then, to hear my 16-year-old grandson on the other end. “Hi!” he exclaimed.
“Caleb!” I answered with excitement, I didn’t recognize the phone number as belonging to him but then I know a lot of people. It’s a great deal to remember.
“Yes, it’s me,” he continues, obviously unaware of his incorrect grammar.
“Aren’t you supposed to be in school?” I question.
“I am in school. I’m calling you from the office. It’s lunch.” I love this boy with all my heart but he’s never called me at lunchtime.
His voice lowers: “I need some help.”
I would gladly throw myself in front of a bus for this kid. “Okay, dear, what’s going on?”
“I’m in some trouble.” This resonates; no one got in more trouble than I did as a teenager so the concept of trying to get out of it is not foreign to me. In fact, had I been able to call a grandparent to extricate me from the outcomes of a million dumb things I did at his age, I would have been eternally grateful. In addition, my ego grew exponentially as I thought, Gee I’m the one he picked to call.
“Please don’t tell my parents.” Wait a minute, I think, this is getting heavy. While I adore being my grandchildren’s confidante, I am not so much in favour of keeping secrets from their parents unless it has to do with how many Oreos they ate in one sitting. I had a niggling suspicion that he was not calling me about Oreos.
“Tell me what’s going on and then we’ll talk about parents.”
“Well,” he says, “it’s like this. I need a little money.” Something in my brain perks up. But I only pay it slight attention. There is no question that I would offer my eldest grandchild the keys to my bank vault with pleasure. But something deep inside me was bothered. Caleb never says, “It’s like this.”
“Caleb,” I asked. “What’s your name for me?”
“What do you mean?” he answered.
“What do you call me?” I persist.
“Grandma,” he says, “You know I call you Grandma!” Caleb never calls me Grandma. His father’s mother is known as Grandma and I, his mother’s mother, am known as Nanny.
With tremendous trepidation and gallons of guilt, I hang the phone up. My still-floured hands are shaking. What if Caleb did need help and I failed him? What if he was kidnapped or worse just because I thought I was being prudent? I tried to calm myself by going back to my cake. It hadn’t really sounded like Caleb; the cadence of his voice was just off and why would he call me from the phone in the school office and not his own phone? Unless … The unlesses started to squirm in my mind.
My first reaction was to call his mother, my daughter, but I couldn’t see that accomplishing anything more than worrying her. I considered calling his dad, in general, a calmer individual, but the longer the time went on the more I knew I had been punked or to be exact, almost punked. I was still frightened and remained so until I called Caleb after school. Those hours between noon and 3:15 p.m. were long and frightening and unshareable; who was I going to call to say that I think I had gotten my grandson … never mind.
He seemed just fine and assured me that he had not called me during the day. He was impressed with my questioning of the nefarious man impersonating him, we had a small chat about whether or not they had been using A.I., and then we got off the phone.
After a while, I got angry. How dare someone try to impersonate Caleb and use his sweetness as a way to extricate money. I wanted to call the scammer back and give him a piece of my mind! Instead, I took a breath and ate a piece of cake, wondering if Caleb might like a slice.
Virginia Fisher Yaffe lives in Montreal.