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: Temple 3-4363.

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.



Amanda said…

Interesting story!! It's amazing to think about how technology has changed in the past few decades.

I want to hear more about the James Dean lookin' fellars with greased back hair.
Tammy said…
You have such a great way of telling a story, Pamela!
Those Eldridge boys...sound like hoodlum Cassinovas to me! ;)
So glad I never had to live with party lines, but it is amazing how far phones have come over the decades. I still remember our big old dial phone- the basic square model.
And I smiled when you quoted your old phone number grade school, you could reach me at UL2-6731. :)

Oh, and thank you so much for visiting the birthday tribute to my mom...and for leaving Happy B-day wishes on her site, too! I so appreciate that, Pamela!
kailani said…
I can't even imagine having to share my phone with complete strangers. But I guess if that's what you grew up with and didn't know any different . . .
swampwitch said…
Oh my, what memories that story brought back. I hadn't thought about our 4-party phone line in years. I wish I could remember the number like you can. The first number I recall is CY8-2898, but that's was the 'fancy schmancy' 1- party line we had when we moved to Hugo, OK. Our first phone was very big and very black and very heavy. Loved the reminiscing today and your great writing.
Heather said…
Ah, the memories! We had a party line too. It would drive my dad CRAZY because he ONLY used the phone if he absolutely had to, which was usually when something broke down on the farm and he needed to find a repairman or replacement part. Every time he'd try to get on the phone, a chatty neighbour would be on it, and he'd pace around the house fuming about it.
Vicki said…
Ahh Party lines.. I do miss them. It may have been the source of my noseyness.

We had a boy on our party line, we called him Turle Face. He would talk to his girlfriend and we would listen. They figured out what we were doing and then learned to speak french so we couldn't understand. !!!
Heather said…
Reminds me of Pillow Talk.
My husband and I occasionally watch this show called 2057, which goes through some of the possible scenarios technologically for the world in 50 years. It's crazy! Everything technological. Cars that drive themselves, video phones that you talk on from a glove you wear on your hand, elevator rides to space, robots (of course), holograms that act as playmates and GPS systems. Everything seems so impersonal. Then again, 50 years ago, people would have thought the idea of having blogging buddies crazy.
Karmyn said…
sigh - I remember the days when you could crank-call someone and they didn't have any way to identify you.
Melissa said…
Me too, Karmyn.
C said…
Wow the telephone is a life saver and then some.
Willowtree said…
Reading this reminded me of when I was young. We never had a party line, but I did watch a lot of Greenacres.
Thank you so much for visiting my blog. I will be back to read more on yours! I love your picture and the superimposed computer with presumably you sitting there? That is cool!
kate said…
cool story!! I remember hearing about it but never experienced it myself! I do remember a time before area codes... when my grandmas number was va6-0770 and my great aunt was sh7-0657... idk what it was with the letters! lol but I still remember that!

I love the new techo era. I have always been a phone girl... and now I am on it seemingly 24/7... in reality probably 12/7.

We also have way too many phones. I think as time goes on the tech will catch up and we will have one phone that does it all for us. (I am looking forward to that so I only need one charger when I travel!!)

Happy Friday!!
BarnGoddess said…
this was a good story!

When I was growing up I had twin friends who lived 5 miles further out in the country than me, they had a party line.In fact, they had a party line until 1987!!!

good party line etiquette is a MUST :)

I love my cewll phone, I am addicted........
her indoors said…
enjoyed that story, and yes i remember 'party' lines we had them over here but not for long and we didnt have as much fun as you did!
Pass The Torch said…
What a great story! My mom talks about the old phone system a lot also. And she - at 69 -- can still remember her private number too. What cool history is that?
Julie said…
Oh my heck! I remember the good ol' days with the 4-line party line. Our number was 7 digits if someone was calling us long distance, but if we were calling within our area it was only 4. We heard some good stuff on the party line. We used to get on there and no one know we were there, until we started giggling or something. Our phone was one of those just like your picture, but not so bright. We had the boring beige.

Remember when you could punch a combination of buttons and make your own phone ring.

Ring Ring...
Karmyn: Hello
prankster: Is your refrigerator running?
Karmyn: Yes
prankster: Well then you better go catch it.
Marti said…
You are indeed a terrific storyteller! I remember party lines as well, and all the grief they caused! LOL

My grandmother lived in such a small town, all of the telephones had the same prefix, so you only had to dial the last four digits!

Thanks for sharing! I appreciate you stopping by my blog.

Hope you have a wonderful day!
Matt said…
Briefly, in Vermont as a small boy I remember having a party line--rural area. What a pain in the ass. I would have murdered that old woman, too. My goodness, what a b*tch.

People can be so rude. I hate anything that abrogates my independence and privacy. Everything about my life is about independence right now. And convenience.
Claudia said… seems blogger ate my comment from yesterday (@&^&%#$&!) I didn't even know that party lines were actually things that could be shared like that. wow...
Gattina said…
It's wonderful what a progress we could live since we were children ! From mecanical typewriters to computers, from phones with disks to cell phones, from handwashing to washing machine, not to speak about a dryer or a dishwasher !
We didn't even have a telephone, there was one cabin on the street in front of the apartments and when you had something to say to your neighbor, you just went over. The first telephone my parents owned was in 1959 when we moved to Brussels. And now ... !
wolfbaby said…
I have had a party line before and they totally suck!!!

That story is funny:) well not the end part that was as you said spooky
rose said…
Pam a good one as always. I love your stories. I hope to get that good at it. Grandma had a party line which my aunt being asort of a youngster loved to listen in and "Maam" would yell "El get off that phone."
Anonymous said…
Boy, does that bring back memories! When I was growing up we had a party line and it was with everyone on our road: all relatives! Granny always wanted to know who called you and why and who was at your house. The clicks while you were talking were so annoying! Then there was our cousin JoElla who was older than the rest of us and talked to her boyfriends for hours and didn't make it short when you told her you needed the phone, boy that would miff my mom and dad. Anyways...can't believe I'm old enough to remember that technology; or the lack there of. Especially the old dial phones and if you made a mistake dialing...had to start alllllll over again! venus and K.
Anonymous said…
I think that old lady lived next door to us a few years ago. what a bugger


Popular posts from this blog

Sing in Spring

An Old Cold Spot

Earth Friendly