A Very Long Distance Birthday Greeting

It was an unfamiliar ringtone. I was expecting two early morning phone calls. From my daughters, Boston and Los Angeles. I knew when I picked up the phone, instead of “hello,” I’d be treated to choruses of “Happy Birthday To You.”

But this ringtone announced neither my daughter Faith (Piano Riff) or Jill (Pinball). It sounded familiar; something heard long ago. From my childhood?

Yes, that was it! “Bei Mir Bist Du Schon” being sung in Yiddish by the Andrew Sisters. A 1940s hit for Jews. I certainly hadn’t assigned that ring to any in my contact list. It wasn’t an option on my iPhone and the tune wasn’t listed in my iTunes library, so how could it attach itself to a caller?

And then I remembered my iPhone’s special abilities. It could relay phone calls between Heaven and Earth. Sure enough, calling me on my phone’s Conference Call feature, were my long-deceased parents, Irv and Min Shapiro, major characters in my memoir, “The Division Street Princess.”

I put my ear to the phone and as the Andrew Sisters wound up, I heard my mother and father belting out, “Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you.” They weren’t half bad.

Before I could respond, my mother jumped in, “We knew you’d be up early, so we wanted to be the first to call.”

“Hi Princess,” it was my dad. “Surprised?’

“That’s hardly the word,” I said. My delight prevented tears.

“We’re so proud of you,” they said in unison. To myself I thought, how nice to hear them agreeable. When alive, their frequent tiffs made the child I was quite unhappy.

“First it was the memoir,” Dad said. “And now your retail job. Just like at Irv’s Finer Foods. Remember your cigar box register?”

“How could I forget?” I answered. “I was so full of myself waiting on customers in my sundries section. I can still see little me holding that box as if it were a treasure chest.”

“I wish you didn’t have to stand on your feet all day.” It was Mother. I recalled she hadn’t been that crazy about wearing an apron or standing behind a counter in our grocery store. She believed the stained cloth disguised her glamour. But that could never happen. Not with her blue eyes, raven hair, costume jewelry, and high-heeled shoes.

“It’s not so bad,” I said. “I can wear my running shoes.”

“Hmmph,” from Mother. “You look like a kid in that outfit,” she said. “They couldn’t let you wear a dress? Why a t-shirt?”

“It’s all about the logo and a feeling of casual and comfort in the store,” I explained.

I couldn’t see her expression (FaceTime was still being worked on up there), but I imagined a roll of those beautiful blues.

“I see how you ring things up on that gadget you keep in your pocket,” Dad said. “Quite impressive.”

From Mom, “It wasn’t impressive I could pencil a customer’s order on a brown paper bag? Add it up in my head? That wasn’t impressive?”

“Sweetheart,” Dad started.

I interrupted. “No, no, of course. You were amazing, Mom. I remember standing at the counter next to you, wondering if I’d ever be as smart as you.”

“And I never went beyond Tuley High School,” Mother said. “Imagine if I had your education, Elaine.”

“What about me?” Dad asked. “Grammar school was it. I had to go to work…”

I felt those old vibrations and jumped in. “You were both spectacular,” I said. Now came the tears. “I can’t thank you enough for all you've given me. You made me who I am today.”

Calm on the other end. Then, together, “And, it wouldn’t hurt your daughters to give us a call now and then. They’ve got iPhones.”

“Are you kidding?” I said. “The minute I hang up, I’ll let them know the lines are open. Expect their calls.”

“Don’t forget Princess,” Dad said. “Have a Happy Birthday.”

“Of course,” Mom added. “Why does she think we called?”