As a very young boy in the early 60s, I was instructed by my parents that the “telephone” was not a toy. It was a serious device intended to be used by adults and only for emergencies, business, or to speak with family. It was not something for a child to answer when it rang, and it was not something to play with. The phone sat purposely on its stand in the living room, much like the phone in most everyone else’s house.
Though I did not understand how or why, I soon learned there were charges when using the phone and that somehow talking to someone “long distance” costs a significant amount of money. It was those charges that caused adults to scamper to the phone when they heard the cry, “It is the grandparents, and they are calling long-distance!”.
I learned there were also variations in phone service. When visiting my grandparents at their rural farm home, I became aware they did not have a private phone line. Instead, they were participants in a party-line. This meant there were three neighboring families sharing the same line. Each family had a distinctive ring so they would know if an incoming call was intended for them. My grandparent’s ring was “two longs and a short”, so an incoming call intended for them would sound like this: RINGGGGGGGGG, RINGGGGGGGGG, Ring!
A party line also meant that if you picked up the receiver and one of the other families was engaged in a call, you could hear their conversation. This led to a compilation of interesting memories of my grandmother excusing herself from her chores in the kitchen and easing into the living room to pick up the receiver of the phone, listening to a conversation not intended for her ears. Some would call her actions eavesdropping. Grandma would call it “just checking”.
I can remember my first phone number, EV5-6282. Many young people may not know that at one time phone numbers had letters and numbers. This was because the letters were a “prefix” which would take the call to a telephone exchange hub where calls would be routed to the proper place. When I was in the fourth grade and my family moved to a different house, technology had improved, and the “prefix” was eliminated. My new phone number became 993-2493.
Long distance was still a major concern for many years. Heaven only knows how much money I spent in college calling my high school sweetheart who was not located in my calling zone. A three-minute call would cost $1.95, and this was in 1974 dollars! Not sure if we broke up because of problems with our relationship or the size of the phone bill.
Everyone had a phone directory for frequently called numbers. This was usually a small notebook-like item, which sat under the phone or in the drawer beneath. In it was a compilation of phone numbers one was likely to call at some time in the future. As a backup, there were these humongous books called the White pages and the Yellow pages. They contained the names and addresses of every person in your town who had a phone. It was the source you went to find a phone number you did not have. Of course, most of us had significant numbers committed to memory, like the phone number of a best friend, and “time and temperature”.
Now almost everyone has a cell phone, and we are free from the restraints of land lines. Does anyone remember a phone number anymore or do they simply have it stored in the database of their phone and hit speed dial when they want to make a call? Whenever I am filling out paperwork for the doctor, or for some other official reason, I am frequently asked for my wife’s phone number as she is my backup contact person. It is a little embarrassing to be forced to pull out my phone and look at the number in my contacts. I call my wife for one thing or the other, two or three times a day. You would think I would know the number, but I do not. There is no reason to remember it because I use speed dial. I feel certain that if I was hurt in an accident and my phone was lost or destroyed, I would have no idea of what to tell the emergency crew when they asked whom to call, or their number. I am a prisoner of technology.
Maybe the good outweighs the worst things the technological improvements with phones have affected. It is certainly nice to be able to reach and speak to someone and not being tied to a single land line phone attached to the kitchen wall or sitting in the front room. The elimination of long-distance fees is so much more economical, as is the freedom to speak as long as you want without incurring additional costs. On the other hand, there are fond memories of the phone ringing and knowing someone wanted to speak with you so badly they willing to bear the cost of calling “long distance”. It made you feel special.
Thought for the day: Spoken during a eulogy; “He was such an honest man a fella could shoot dice with him over the telephone.”
Until next time...I will keep ridin’ the storm out.