The other day the Jersey Girl and I were discussing the wonderful movie Lion, and specifically the part where a five-year-old boy, suddenly finding himself in a strange city a thousand miles from home, was unable to communicate his home town or his mother’s name — but nevertheless could fend for himself and survive for months.
Could we have done the same? As five-year-olds, would we also have been unable to communicate to the authorities about how get us home?
I’m quite sure that, at the age of five, I didn’t possess the kind of hardiness, stoicism, and long-term survival skills “Saroo” showed in Lion. (After all, he and his brother were out stealing coal from trains and using other techniques to try to help feed their family, and I was just growing up in a small but tidy house in Akron, Ohio.) But, I did have one thing that Saroo apparently lacked — my mother drilled all of the little Webners relentlessly, so we would memorize our names and our phone number. Even as a small boy, I knew my name, my street, my city, and that seven-digit number that someone could call to let my parents know where I was. And, in fact, when I went wandering around the block on one occasion, I told the nice people who found me my phone number, and they called and Mom came and got me.
Even now, 55 years later, that same phone number comes immediately to mind. I can’t remember the phone numbers I had in my college apartments, or when Kish and I lived in Washington, D.C., or in our first homes after moving back to the Columbus area, but I remember that first phone number with ease. It’s as if the drilling with Mom at the kitchen table as I ate another bowl of oatmeal on a cold winter morning engraved that phone number into the deepest synapses of my brain, where it can never be erased.
Of course, it’s totally useless information now — but still, it’s kind of comforting to know that I still remember something from so long ago. Mom did a pretty good job.