Thursday, July 12, 2012


Back in the day, people used the telephone to talk to one another - to check on family, or to ask friends "What's happening?"  The phone used to ring all the time.  The sound was a comforting and familiar "brrriiiiinnnng!  brrriiiinnnng!"  No one had an answering machine.  Everyone in the house would run for the phone.  It would just ring "bbbbrrrriiiiinnnngggg!" until someone picked it up, or until the caller gave up. 

Most folks had a kitchen phone, which was attached to the wall.   This was because families spent a lot of time in the kitchen.  Phones were a solid fixture in almost every house. 

The wire on that phone was usually stttrretched out, because some of the people in the household liked privacy.  They'd walk away from the wall (and the people in the kitchen) as far as the line would allow.  Sometimes the line could be stretched all the way to the hall closet - a great space, when you were 12, for listening to your tongue-tied 13-year-old boyfriend breathe.  In the old days, how far the line stretched was important.   But mostly it was just cool to be on the phone.  Talking.

If you had to make an emergency call, you'd dial "0" (zero), and hope the long-distance operator who picked up would know what to do. 

Some of us had "party lines" - a phone line that was tied into other phone lines.  This was a cheaper way to have a telephone.  "Private lines" were for rich people.  Sometimes, if you wanted to make a call on your "party line," you'd have to wait until another party hung up so the line would be available.  You could (usually) tell if someone was listening to your conversation, so your privacy on the party line was (usually) intact.  If you had to make an urgent call on a busy party line, you'd have to (anxiously) ask the other person to please hang up. Or you'd press the hang-up button a bunch of times "click-click-click-click," to let them know you were waiting. Or you'd shout "Hang the eff up!"  Whatever worked. 

Lots of folks had more than one phone fixture.  Parents tended to have a telephone in their bedroom, for instance, for those calls they didn't want to handle while the kids were around.  Kids always had a way of being particularly noisy when you were on the phone, and there was no way to get away from them, because you were attached to the wall.  And they knew it.

Back in the day, you had to dial the phone number you wanted to reach.  The finger holes on the dial were marked 1 thru 9, then 0.  Dialing the phone could be a little tricky, if you'd had one glass too many.  Or if you were trying to sneak a call in the dark.  You'd have to count the holes.  And you needed to be patient while the phone whirled and clicked.  If the number you were dialing had an alpha-prefix, like everyone's phone number used to have, you'd have to remember where all the letters were, too. 

The last rotary-dial phone I had looked just like this one.

If you weren't home and you needed to make a phone call, you'd have to find a phone booth.  (And a dime.)  Phone booths were everywhere.  They had little seats in them, and folding doors. 

Household phones began to get smaller, as the years rolled by.  Push-button phones got popular.  My next phone looked like this.

Folks wanted to walk further and further away from other folks, when they were on the phone.  They wanted to take their phones wherever.  Pretty soon, everyone had a cordless phone.  The first models were fairly large.  You felt lucky if they worked in the backyard. 

But, as the years rolled by, telephones became cell phones.  Pocket-sized wonders.  Now everyone has an itty-bitty phone that features internet capabilities, and countless ring-tones.  It's amazing.  If you stop and think about it, it's almost overwhelming.  Most people have cell phones - including young children.  And it's hard to find a phone booth. 

If you still have a land-line in your house these days, you don't even answer it when it rings.   It's always a telemarketer, or a political party.  You remind yourself that the only reason you have that old dinosaur is because your cellphone reception on the hill can be "spotty."  Sort of like being on a party line.

Which gets you to thinking about the old days.

Today I am missing the old days, when the telephone used to "ring off the wall."
Back then, we didn't know who would be on the line when we answered.  Each time we picked up the receiver we went on a special little adventure. 

People TALKED to each other, and we enjoyed it. 

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