She stands at the gate watching her son board the bus. She talks to him on her cellphone. She is in her late 70s, maybe a well-kept, fit 80. He is seated now and she can’t see him, but he’s there on her cell, where they keep up the conversation they started at breakfast. They continued in the car, probably, going over the little things.

She makes sure he has his smartphone, his books and briefcase. Even as the bus door closes, they keep up the patter. Standing beside her, it occurs to me that I could be doing the same thing. My daughters, on the same bus, are way ahead of me. They ring up and we talk, continuing the conversation we started in the car. One has an iPhone, the other a Blackberry. It’s the long goodbye. It’s the new goodbye.

Of course, the new technology has changed so many of our lives, making them softer to the touch, for evaporating time and space. Christmas Day we sat around after dinner and played with the new toys with all of their apps and flashes and sparkles, their sounds and images. And when we packed ourselves into the car for the long drive to the long goodbye, each of their phones rang with different sounds, jingles and words. Those who were waiting for them back on the other coast, where the sun was still up and warm, called to affirm arrivals, to collect data and confirm dates.

It wasn’t always so. Those of us who remember the long ago, that space and time beyond the sunsets and risings, past the wars and depressions, past the years that belong only to us, we remember it wasn’t always so.

In 1952 I stood with my mother in the billowing gray-white steam of the 2:20 Ann Rutledge Special out of St. Louis Union Station, bound for Chicago. I stood in the cold with mother, she with her new Christmas coat and bag, I in my uniform and blue overcoat, duffel bag at my knee.

We chatted about Christmas then and Christmas past, about little things, simple things. Did I have enough money, toothbrush, clean underwear and passport? Did I remember that big tan manila envelope that I had hugged so close all week, the envelope that held my special orders? Yes. I did. It was under my arm. I wagged it under her nose. She laughed. It was the last time she laughed.

We hugged and hugged again, and when the train pulled out, I sat quickly and waved. She could see me and waved back, standing there in the gray-white steam. The windows were dirty, railroad dirty, not the Concord Coach Lines’ blue tint. And then I was gone.

It was a short goodbye. A very quick, short wave and I was crossing the river. I looked back, and then it was all gone.

I called her as often as I could, from Texas and Louisiana, San Francisco and Seattle. I would drop quarters into pay phones in Waco, Dallas, New Orleans and Los Angeles, and speak briefly with her. On those lines, we sounded exactly as far away as we were. Tokyo and Korea were too far away and impossible to reach.

Now, in this new age, soldiers call daily from as far away as Iraq, Afghanistan, Germany and France. They converse on mutual screens with their parents, their young wives, and wave at their children as though they are down the street or in the next town. Magic.

On the way home from the bus station, the girls texted us with dozens of tiny messages, reminders, hints. It was as if they were in the back seat. The new goodbye; the long goodbye.

In memoriam: To Steve Jobs, who made most of the magic happen.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.

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