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Memoir Nonfiction

The man who hated caller ID

THERE WAS NO MAN that hated the invention of caller ID more than my grandpa, Garland Hyde Hamlett, Sr.

If April Fools can be considered a holiday, it would have been his favorite. But April 1 is a single day. And my Papa Hamlett’s shenanigans surpassed more than one calendar day in the year.

This isn’t a scientific estimate but I’d put forth he made at least 2 or 3 prank phone calls to our house alone each month. My guess is he did the same to Butch (his son) and Julie and Rhita (his other daughter) and Donnie.

There’s no telling how many others he pranked on the telephone each week, month, and year. I imagine Lorena Tharpe and Peggy made their way on his calling list, as well as Tink Tuck and others.

When he called our house, his go-to was disguising his voice as that of an elderly woman. He’d ask my mom if she knew what time bingo was tonight or if she had any flour or sugar or what temperature to bake a chicken. My mom fell for it every time.

Sometimes he’d switch it up and pretend to be a creepy old dude and drop information about my mom that would freak her out — details only family would know, not a stranger.

“Who is this?” my mom would ask.

“Oh, I’m [such and such],” my grandpa would reply. “I know all about you.”

“I don’t know who you are. Don’t call this house again!”

Then my mom would hang up the phone and walk around the kitchen, bewildered.

I remember going over to my Papa Hamlett’s house as caller ID was being rolled out in Charlotte County in the 90s.

“These telephone people don’t want you to have any fun,” he said.

“There’s a way you can hide who’s calling,” I said. “We do it when we prank some of our teachers on the weekend.”

“How do you do that?” he asked. “Will it work on my phone?”

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By Jeffrey Pillow

Jeffrey Pillow is an American short story writer, memoirist, and poet. He is the author of The Lady Next Door. His writing has been published in Urge Magazine, The Nervous Breakdown, 16 Blocks, USA Today, Sports Illustrated, TheBody.com, New York Times, Washington Post, and Richmond Times-Dispatch.

He grew up in the small town of Phenix, Virginia, population: 200, and now lives in Charlottesville with his wife, two kids, and a dog named Mozzarella Cheese. He is a graduate of the University of Virginia where he was a Rainey Scholar. This is his blog.