It was a phone number we all knew by heart. Our own personal 911, the number we called when we needed help. Often a last resort, but sometimes the first call we made.
The man that answered the hotline knew us all by voice. He listened to what we had to say and took the steps necessary to help us. Sometimes he had us come by for money or to borrow a vehicle. Sometimes he went on the road and came to us to solve our problems with plumbing, mechanics, or other household issues. Often he came when our cars wouldn't start or we had a wreck and no way home.
But even more valuable than these things was the comfort we knew he would give us. He let us cry; he didn't tell us everything was fine and we shouldn't worry. He took our heartbreaks as seriously as he did when we had our house flooded or lost our job.
He came when our babies were born. He came when our kids graduated and got married. He came when we were threatened and physically abused. He came when we were verbally beat down. He came and he stood with us, whether in good or bad times.
He came when my marriage fell apart. He took off the cowboy hat he always wore, turning it in his work worn hands, sat beside me on the sofa, and said to me "what do you want to do, sweetheart? Tell me and I'll support you in whatever you decide."
When he lost his eyesight to macular degeneration and could no longer come to us, he continued to answer our calls for help. We had only to dial the number and tell him the problem. He understood that sometimes a person only needs a phone call and someone to listen to them. And when we called and told him one of his grandchildren needed his help, he made a point to call them, not once, but every week or so, just so they knew he had their back. That they didn't stand alone in a world that is often hard to navigate safely through. He stood with them.
Eight years ago this month, our dad was taken from us by a heart attack in the middle of the night. The hotline operator we had come to depend on no longer there to answer our calls. I keep his number in my cell phone, removing the area code after my mom passed away so I don't accidentally dial it. It comforts me to see his name and the familiar number. Sometimes I call him up in my mind. He always answers and I hear his soft voice telling me "I'm so glad you called, sweetheart; I was just thinking about you."