I grew up in Mobile during the 1930s and often reminisce about those grim yet always-eventful Depression years — when streetcars rumbled along busy city thoroughfares like Springhill Avenue and Government Street, coffee was only a nickel a cup and icemen carried blocks of ice from horse-drawn wagons to patrons in pleasant neighborhoods like Oakland Terrace, a one-block street just a stone’s throw away from our family home on Dauphin Street.
Back then, I was a small denizen of that enchanting never-never land of childhood where all good boys and girls reside for a while. I lived a sheltered, carefree life with parents and siblings on a nice, tree-lined street that was a scant mile from downtown Mobile.
Those were the days when one could always summon a telephone operator merely by lifting the receiver of one’s phone, and telephone numbers were preceded by a call name. Two of those call names that come to mind were Dexter and Belmont.
In those leisurely times, long before the marvels of smartphones, texting, voice mail and the ubiquitous Internet, our telephone, an old-fashioned one which was attached to the wall on our staircase landing, had a magical number, Dexter 1052 W.
Since then I’ve had a score of telephone numbers, most of which I’ve quickly forgotten. But for some strange, inexplicable reason, I still remember Dexter 1052 W, a cryptic talisman in its way and one of the last reminders of a long-vanished childhood.
Sometimes, in despairing moments when I’m tormented by memories of a misspent youth, or the fears and loneliness of advanced old age, I’ve often had the crazy, compelling notion that if I called Dexter 1052 W once more, I’d be able to contact my long-dead parents, and they’d ask me to come back to my boyhood home on Dauphin and Oakland Terrace and to the safe, uncomplicated world of childhood. For only then could I return joyfully to a wondrous, changeless universe teeming with endless delights, where life’s sorrows and disappointments were largely unknown and every moment brought only fun and play!
This outrageous wish to alter time and fortune’s irreversible course is sublime foolishness, of course, but I will always be eternally grateful to my tenacious memory for allowing me the supreme luxury of such a comforting, mind-boggling fantasy.