The Party Line
I have a fancy schmancy cell phone but not one of those that can walk the dog and use a pooper scoop. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t have the tecknohow of those that use one. (Is tecknohow a word or did I just make it up.)
Diving into the pool of memories (yes, Robin, like a pensieve) I am amused and somewhat nostalgic about how simple phones used to be.
My childhood introduction to telephones was on a party line. There were anywhere from two-party to ten-party lines. Ours was four-party: Our family, Our Uncle and Aunt, The Eldridges, and a woman who lived across the small valley.
There was a certain protocol involved when you picked up the receiver. First, you listened before you started dialing. Yes. You could pick up the phone right in the middle of your neighbors conversation. Second, the interrupted party would often say something to make sure you would hang up. Like “Hang up!” Third, it was polite to say excuse me and discreetly replace the receiver on the cradle and try again later.
The Eldridge family had teen-age boys with the mandatory hormones. I thought they were all like James Dean with their dirty blond hair greased back and cigarettes rolled up in their sleeves. They tied the party line up while sweet-talking in the evening with their girlfriends.
Mom didn’t have much time to waste on the phone, so she would get disgusted when she wanted to make a brief call to her sister and those “darn Eldridge boys” were hogging the line again.
It's not as though the boys weren’t aware of other people’s impatience with their lengthy love chats. A party line phone coming off the hook made a very conspicuous ‘click’.
Not everyone was nice about it. One night my Uncle Dell told the boys to get off the line. That resulted in a party-line squabble that included a few weeks of “clicking” and strange noises interrupting personal calls.
The provocation prompted my brothers, Mike and Nick, to hatch the perfect scheme. They unscrewed the telephone mouthpiece and removed the little round part that I assume was the microphone. They could then pick up the phone, click the button to imitate a hang up, and laugh out-loud while they listened to the Eldridge boys making lovey dovey on the phone to their sweethearts. It was great entertainment. Later, Mike would entertain us by mimicking them and making kissy smoochy sounds.
The fun came to an abrupt halt one evening when mom ran to answer the phone and discovered it still in pieces.
Aunt Myrtle must have heard about the little snooping game we played. If anyone picked up the phone during one of her calls, she would shout, “Mike, is that you!”
An acquaintance approached mom one day with a strange request. She wanted mom to “eavesdrop” on the calls of the widow that shared our party line. She suspected her husband and the woman were having an affair. I think my mom was speechless at the audacity of the request. She declined, of course.
An oft heard and repeated urban legend told of an old woman who used her party line phone to gossip incessantly. A young man, who was fed up with the busybody, pretended there was an emergency so that she would release the line. Naturally, she listened in when he placed his call. She was ticked!! A few days later his wife fell deathly ill; the situation was urgent. As luck would have it, the old biddy was on the phone. His pleading for the phone line received a haughty and adamant refusal. The man’s wife died and the next day someone murdered the old woman using a tire iron.
Hearing this spooky story, you may understand my childish relief when the telephone company put in a private line. I still remember that new number:
Here is some irony. Back then there were four families sharing one phone line. Now the hubby and I are one family sharing four phone lines. We have our regular landline (with four phones), our fax machine line, andwe each have a personal cell phone.