One summer night, a few years before Mama died, I tried to call her but there was no answer. An hour later with still no answer, I was pacing the floor and debating whether or not to jump in the car and take the 22-minute drive to her house.
“If she doesn’t answer this time, I’m gettin’ in the car,” I muttered to myself. I always had the premonition that death would come suddenly for Mama — it eventually did — so I was concerned whenever I couldn’t reach her. She answered.
“Where have you been?” I asked in a tone mixed in both relief and aggravation.
“Oh, I was just outside piddling in the yard, and I forgot to take the phone,” she replied nonchalantly. It never, not on one occasion, bothered Mama if she had caused any of us worry. I guess she figured she had worried enough about all of us over time so payback was fair play.
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There were two things I could never teach Mama: Carry the cordless phone when you go outside and ask me to get your thyroid prescription refilled before you’ve been out of it for seven days and starting to get “swimmy headed.” Both always resulted in an argument but the latter could be particularly vexing and not particularly Christian-like.
I bring up this time of 12 years ago, because we’ve become a society where we think that everyone should be available on demand at any time. I returned my sister’s call one day and she said immediately, “Where have you been? I’ve been trying to reach you. I tried both your home phone and then I called your cell.”
“Well, I washed my hair then I dried it. I’ve been out of touch for 20 minutes.” This is true. And, then it turned out not to be anything earth shaking like someone was dead or close to it.
One night over dinner with friends, we were discussing how “run ragged” we all are and how we never get caught up. One of our friends, the president of a major university, opined, “You know what I think it is? Email. There’s so much of it and it requires so much attention with the questions and requests.”
A couple of months later, I was reading a memoir by one of Nashville’s most successful songwriters, Bobby Braddock (co-writer of the song considered by many to be the No. 1 country song of all time “He Stopped Loving Her Today”) and he mentioned in passing how much he used to get done in the 1970s and 1980s. “I’d write 10 songs a month, take vacations, party and I read a lot.” That statement coupled with what my friend said about email, convinced me. All this communication is strangling our work and lives.
I’m going off the grid. Every day by 11 a.m., I’m finishing with emails and texts and my cell phone is being turned off. We still have a land line so you can call that if you need me but chances are I won’t be home. You’ll probably find me in the sitting area of our barn, tucked in with my laptop — there’s no WiFi there — writing and being generally productive. It’s my favorite place on the Rondarosa. There’s the smell of rich timber wood and the company of two horses and a miniature donkey — usually with briars stuck to their unkempt manes — sticking their heads through the stall doors and looking pitiful in hopes of getting sweet feed. The rescue cats, who are all named after SEC schools (with the exception being the ginger who is named Archie Manning), wandering in and out, while the dogs sprawl on the sofa and chair. It’s peaceful there. No one has a question I need to answer or a problem I need to solve that will derail my work schedule.
Just like Mama, I’ll probably be piddling with no phone nearby.
Ronda Rich, author of “There’s A Better Time A-Comin’,” writes the Dixie Diva column that appears in several newspapers.