Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Trashing Traditional Telephone

Tradition is a difficult thing to release. We all get attached to what is, and fear that which is unknown. We want things to remain the same, and we want our children to understand how life was for us. . .back then. . .

In the 1950s we had a heavy black telephone with a 5-digit number. 2-2922. Sunset 2-2922. The moniker was probably used when making long distant calls via the local operator who sat at a switchboard and literally connected the calls with plugs on wires.

1960s, when we moved back to Pinehurst, our number was Sunset 2-2862. We were on a "party line" of 4. "Parties" were households of people, not events for hanging out and eating goodies. Party lines included the home numbers of several neighbors, so when you picked up the phone you could encounter someone else on the line. It was like the home phones when you picked up the phone, and someone in the family was already using it. Technology hadn't advanced enough, and there wasn't enough wire strung to give everyone a "private line." (Hence the need to listen for a dial tone before calling. If there wasn't a dial tone, someone was probably already on the line.)

People had to pay more money for less "parties." We were lucky, with only 4 parties on the line, there was a good chance the line wasn't in use when you wanted to make a call. Calls had to be short, though, in case someone else needed to use the line. Phone etiquette indicated that if someone was on the party line, you were to quietly hang up, and wait 10 to 15 minutes or more before checking the to see if the line was free.

One of my friends was on a 10 party line - which was the most common. It was difficult to make calls at certain times of the day with so many families using the same line. Kids were not allowed to be on the phone for more than 5 to 10 minutes - even when doing homework. The rule was you make the call, get to the point, and get off the phone. When we were in Jr. High, my friend's next-door-neighbor boyfriend was on the same party line. They could pick up the phone and talk over the dial-tone, or if one of them called a friend the other could listen in on the conversations. I'm sure there was a lot of covert listening to know whether or not the other was "cheating" on their relationship.

I had a friend who lived in another state, who's party line rang into each person's home. The rings were different for each number, so you could tell which call was for you. One ring might be "one long" another "two short" and another "one long-one short" etc. If you were not going to be home, you could ask the neighbor to answer your calls and send along the message, or take messages for you. I guess this system worked well in the 1960s in the rural area where they lived. When I stayed with them, I had to learn not to answer the phone every time it rang. . .

We also had only one phone. It was beige. Phones came in colors, if you your local telephone company carried them. The phones at that time belonged to the company, and customers "rented" the phones. Later in the 60s, one could purchase a phone, and "plug" it into a wall outlet, similar to the ones we have today. When phone ownership was possible you could buy phones in all sorts of colors: turquoise, green, blue, pink, yellow, and in new styles - such as the Princess phone. . .(A phone I always wanted as a child, but never had. . .)

In 1963, long distance was anywhere outside of a few close towns, usually the closest ones on either side of your town. It was amazing to me when in the 1970s when you could call anyone in the Silver Valley without charge.

In the early days, our phone was in the living room. When it rang, my sister and I would run to see who could answer it first. My mom was probably grateful for this, since she was usually tied up in the kitchen, far from the phone. (It was amazing to me, that as we raised our kids, none of them were eager to answer the phone. Maybe it was because it rang so often, it wasn't much of a novelty to them.) In the late 60s or early 70s, we got a second phone for the kitchen. It was a wall-phone, and had a long chord, so we could answer it and still keep cooking or doing dishes. Ours was white or yellow.

Now we had two options for telephone chat, seated in the living room, or standing in the kitchen. We were still supposed to keep conversations short, although now we were on a "private line." We didn't have to be courteous to strangers who may need to use the phone, but Dad still wanted us to keep calls short and to the point. I was a teenager and liked to talk to my friends about boys, dances, school, etc. I could spend more time on the phone when he worked night shift and Mom was bowling. One afternoon, however, when Dad was home, a friend of mine called to chat. I was standing in the kitchen talking on the wall phone. My friend didn't have anything important to say, and was doing a monologue - or should I say monotonous one-sided conversation. She ran out of things to tell me, and was reading the advertisements from the newspaper to me over the phone. Dad noticed that I hadn't said a word for a loooooong time, so he said, "If you don't have anything to say, get off the phone." I tried to tell him, between my "u-huhs" to my friend that she was reading something to me. I think he just reached up and hit the receiver button. Dad's did that in those days.

When I started, I didn't plan to give a chronology of telephonology. . .so I will get to my point. . .today The Hunk shut off our wire line. No more home phone. No more running to the phone. No more, "It's for you" being hollered through the house. No more "Will somebody get the phone?" And no more "We're in the phone book." We are trashing the tradition. We've gone cellular.

So if you need to call me - email me first, and I'll give you my number.

6 comments:

Silver Valley Girl said...

I remember when our phone was in the kitchen, on the counter across from the fridge. On the rare occasions I did talk for a long time, I'd sit on the floor, move the garbage can out of the way, and sit with my back against the wall and talk away. Or, sometimes with my boyfriend, just sit in silence and not talk much.

Pinehurst in my Dreams said...

When we built this house, we had telephone hook-ups put into the kitchen, all the bedrooms (except the little girls' room), and in all the future bedrooms downstairs. Last year, my husband ran a line into my Mary Kay studio/Study which had been the "little girls' bedroom) so I could have a phone to use for business. We had been planning for the future and the anticipated need for eventual resale. Now it seems kinda archaic. . .

Jackie said...

We thought about doing away with our land line - but cellular reception isn't always great here on our hill - so keep it for emergencies. We only have long distance service on the cell phone.

There were five of us kids growing up, one telephone (party line), and it was NEVER a problem. My kids still can't believe it when I tell them that. The whole concept of a 'party' line is one they can't get their heads around. :-)

Pinehurst in my Dreams said...

And we wonder why the younger generation can't share and doesn't understand courtesy to strangers. . .

The Hunk and I were discussing how long it would take for people in the valley to switch from land lines to cellular, and besides being behind the times, the mountains pose a great problem for switching. We live in flatland, so reception is pretty good here.

Inland Empire Girl said...

We can't get cell service at our house. I could never get rid of my land phone! We felt blessed when we got DSL. None of the kids at school have that. They hate dial-up. Technology is unable to keep up in our rural and remote areas!

Pinehurst in my Dreams said...

That is probably oh, so true! We can't get DSL at our house. The cable stops about 1 block from here. That's one reason we went wireless. . .the other is we have had dial-up since '94, and the kids really wanted something speedier. Now the Hunk and I can speed down the Internet Super-highway without much interruption!