I didn’t answer it. I always try not to. Excluding telemarketers, no one calls me at home. And I mean no one. My wife gets most of the calls. If one of my relatives call, they say hello, but then quite quickly ask for her. Even my oldest son, Patrick, gets more calls than me. Seriously. He is only 8, yet averages about a dozen or so calls each year, most from a friend who likes to call and tell jokes.
So when the phone rang that evening, I did what I usually do.
Not a dadgum thing. Steady as she goes. Stay the course. Keep the couch from moving. Let it ring.
Then I heard the voice. My son’s voice singing in a gruff accent about Legos, "Star Wars" and "Minecraft" and God-knows-what-else to someone on the other end of the line. He came running into the den and, with a generous smile, handed me the phone. Of course, I didn’t want it, but took it. The line was dead. Thank goodness they had hung up by then. I was not in the mood to tangle with a sales pitch.
I imagine some parents would be mad or concerned about the lack of social graces or politeness with a child answering the phone that way.
He learned it from me.
In an effort to deter telemarketers, I’ve been answering the phone nonsensically since before he was born. I generally affect an Irish accent and say something to the effect of “We’ll be right over with the ice, but caught our neck in a mangle at Ballyquickshannon and O’Neal’s cow broke his leg,” but I also conjure heavy Southern accents and tell the caller, when they ask for Mrs. Maguire something along the lines of, “How do you know my wife, you son of a goat? Why are you calling her? Where do you want to meet? How big a boy are you? Come on, let’s go. I’ve been wanting to meet you!”
I also enjoy playing radio host. The conversation goes something like this:
“Hello, may I speak to Mr. Maguire.”
“Hey, and you are our 21st caller. We’ve got that rewards package coming right up for you right after this song by Little Johnny and the Small Dogs. Make sure to turn down your radio, because you are live and on the air. What’s your name, caller?”
Usually, with all these approaches, I get what I want: Dead silence.
But, then again, I can’t be blamed for this habit.
I learned it from my father.
While he has more sense than I do, he always answered the phone with his standards, “Maguire International Airlines,” “Maguire’s Bait Shop” or “Linda Maguire’s Answering Service.”
I never questioned him about it. I just grew up thinking that was how you were supposed to answer the phone, especially if you needed to get a laugh, give a laugh or get rid of a telemarketer.
Did he learn it from his father?
Well, I had to do some digging on that. I loved my granddaddy deeply, but did not recall him exactly as a comic. He was the epitome of the John Wayne tough guy: all-state quarterback at Athens High, UGA football player, heavily decorated World War II veteran and a longtime educator whose reputation for discipline earned him the nickname “Mean Dean Maguire” when he worked at Georgia Southern.
I recalled his fondness for laughing and a good joke growing up, but his bulky form, deep voice and overall intimidation often played a greater role in creating a memory of a stern and solid man, rather than a jovial one.
I talked to my dad about it and he told me that, yes, my grandaddy possessed a deep sense of humor, but it was much more low-key. He introduced himself with quite a bit of self-depreciation as “Squire Maguire” or some other nickname and told my father — a one-time minister — that if he fell asleep in church it wasn’t his fault, that the preacher was bad. Yes, he also did answer the phone with the occasional off-kilter greeting.
Where does that leave me? Well, I guess to back where it started. “Do as I say, not as I do” is a good mantra when trying to enlighten one’s children on kindness, refinement and learning from your mistakes. But when it comes to possessing a sense of humor — especially when it is not aimed at putting anyone down — well, that’s not a bad thing. And what could I tell him anyway? Don’t answer the phone acting silly? No. I don’t plan to change.
Let’s just hope that Patrick doesn’t answer the phone that way when the principal or a teacher inevitably calls. Or for that matter, let’s hope I don’t answer it that way.
Then again, it might help explain a lot.
Mark Wallace Maguire is the director of Cobb Life Magazine and the Cobb Business Journal. He is an occasional columnist for the Neighbor.