Monday, December 15, 2008

And it all began with a party line

When my grandmother became one of the first people in the western half of the county to have telephone service, it was absolutely nothing like our phone service of today. On your phone line would be at least five other patrons. If one of the other patrons was on the line, you of course were out of luck. No making calls till the line was clear. It was also an excellent way to gather news and "gossip" from around the area. They didn't hear it on the grape vine...they heard it on the party line. I remember once when my older sister wanted to make a call and our cousin Mary was on the phone at her house talking to her boyfriend. Holly kept picking up the phone to see if it was clear and the "click" it made when the receiver was lifted alerted Mary to the fact that someone else was on the line. This of course meant that she was reluctant to let go the line. There was a bit of small talk going on and the boyfriend was asking "where do you want to go tonight?" (Like there was a wealth of entertainment back in the late fifties...a movie theater and a skating rink.) "I don't know, where do you want to go?" Mary would ask back. After about three minutes of this back and forth, Holly says (disguising her voice a little...a very little) "you're going to hell if you don't get off this phone." I believe there was hell to pay after that little incident, too.

It was an important thing to have a phone in your home. You were really something if someone asked for your phone number and you actually had one to give. I remember when Mac and I married in 1968 how wonderful I felt when the phone company allowed as how we could have a phone...and there would be no party line. It would be our very own phone and we'd have our very own number that was totally different from my neighbors, not just off 1 or2 or 3 or 4...indicating party line service. I made sure to mail my family our phone number so that I didn't run up a high long distance charge on the bill. Being newly married, we were very careful about things like that. One night the phone rang and I answered it "McBride residence" as I always did. Mac sat across from me, watching the news. From the other end of the phone came the most vile language and vulgar suggestions that I held the phone by two fingers since it was the source of the filth. As I handed the phone across to Mac, I said "it's for you." He listened for half a tick and then he stated so coldly that I could hear the ice crackling in his voice. "If you ever call this number again you'll be sorry." As far as I know, he never did.

The next time we were home, I was telling my mother about my phone call and she laughed. She had worked for Ma Bell as a telephone operator when we lived in Washington DC when I was a baby. She told me about all the calls that she had heard (of course they didn't listen in!) and some of the perfectly wonderful responses that I might want to keep in mind, since Mac was away from home so much. I listened.

When we were stationed in Norfolk, Virginia I received a call one night. The young fellow on the other end was saying some pretty vile things. "Hold on a minute, sonny and let me get a cup of coffee and a cigarette." Click. It's no fun harassing a willing victim. I received a call from a phone molester when we lived in England and he had quite a repertoire of stuff to share with me. He got annoyed though when I kept saying things like "knickers? What are knickers?" And then turned to Bubbles (Violet Loxley Green) my neighbor and said, "he's asking about knickers, what's he talking about?" She looked at me and smiled and said, "hang up, darling it's only a tiny pervert who is definitely not going to be getting any jollies at this end of the line."

One night after we had gone to bed, the phone rang. Our house in England only had one line and it was downstairs in the entry way. I figured that people didn't talk as much on the phone as we did in the states since there was no line in the lounge (den or living room for my American audience). So anyway, the phone rang, I got up and went downstairs and answered it. A gentleman on the other end of the line asked if Janice were there. I had to tell him that I knew of no Janice and that he had probably misdialed. He agreed he probably had and then asked what part of the States I was from and we ended up talking about absolutely nothing for forty five minutes. After I rang off, I slipped back into bed and Mac asked sleepily, "who was it?"
I mumbled, just as sleepily, "oh, it was a wrong number."

So now here we are and everyone has a cell phone. Except me. I don't have one, don't want one...can't see a need for one. I heard on the news night before last that parents are in an uproar because their kids are taking pictures of themselves in their underwear and less WITH THEIR TELEPHONES and sending them to their friends, male and female. And male and female are doing this. So, the parents want to know what can be done. WHAT CAN BE DONE? For crying out loud, take the phone away from the child, you blithering idiot. Who pays the bills in that household? Who's rearing who? I see parents who are afraid of their own children and it's a frightening situation. Makes me long for the party line.

46 comments:

Akelamalu said...

I remember party lines too. My father arranged to have a phone installed when he started his own business and insisted that he needed a line to himself because it was a business line!

I usually deal with nuisance calls by putting the receiver down and letting them get on with it!

Suldog said...

For what it's worth, I have no cell phone, either. Nor do I have any desire to have one. Never have, I hope I never will.

We had a party line when I was very young; perhaps until I was 6 or 7.

Hairline Fracture said...

I love your stories.

When my kids are old enough to have cell phones, they will lose them immediately if they pull those kinds of shenanigans!

Katney said...

When we moved our house to this location in 1978 (it was previously on the freeway right-of-way) the phone company was scheduled to come out and disconnect the phone early on the morning the movers were supposed to pull out. They didn't come and didn't come and finally the housemover, needing the reamining hours of daylight, cut the wire and took off down the road with the house. The house turned the corner and started up the road out of sight of the intersection. The phone company truck arrived on the road, drove up and down the road looking for a house at xxx address where he was to disconnect a phone, and finding none, went away.

That phone had been on a four party line. The next rainfall, the phones of the other parties all quit working. Water had got in the wires where they had been cut.

At the new location we had a ten party line. That was all that was available (IN 1978!!) The phone company was scheduled to come out and hook up our phone the morning a few days later. We did not have power or water hooked up yet, but I spent the moring in the house with my four small kids doing stuff that needed to be done. By the time I had to head off to where we were staying for lunch and other obvious reasons, the phone company had not yet come. When I returned an hour later, he had been there and hooked up the phone.

Now, the way that different parties were differentiated on a party line was that they had different ringers. Needless to say, we had two ringers that were already in use on the party line. Consequently, the folks with the same ringers kept getting our calls when we were not at the house. It took several months before we got all the ringers straightened out.

Now as for cell phones, it is now all we have. We eliminated our land line when our internet was no longer dependent on it. I had a cell phone fairly early on, and, despite the fact that I hate telephones in general, it was my request.

I had been working in my classroom on a Saturday afternoon in early December and when I went to head home I discovered that while I was there it had snowed quite a few inches. In the eight mile crawl home, I saw at least ten cars in the ditch. When I got home I told my hubby I wanted a cell phone for St. Nicholas Day. He asked, "When is that?" I told him, "YESTERDAY!"

A cell phone is a good thing to have available in an emergency. But with a large portion of the population carrying them these days, there is surely to be one nearby to borrow in an emergency.

Terri and Bob said...

My superintendent's 10 year old son asked for a cell phone. When he was denied, he whined, everyone else has one! My sup didn't miss a beat and said, if you need to make a call, use one of theirs.

Gotta love that dad!

justabeachkat said...

I think my parents had a party line, but I can't remember much about it. This was a fun post to read. You're so right about kids now days with their phones, computers, etc. It's so scary!

Are you ready for Christmas?

Hugs!
Kat

windycorner said...

Heehee! You can always make me laugh, Sandi, and remember things in my past I haven't thought about in a long time. We had a partyline in Rabun, GA at our lake cabin and I didn't get into any long conversations with strangers, but I do remember long waits for other people to get off the phone. It was a nice little lesson in patience that no doubt is deeply embroidered in my character. Imagine a teenage girl not being able to instantly talk to her friends when she picked up the phone. Unheard of!
Holley

PAT said...

I absolutely remember party lines. We had them as late as the 70's where we lived, "out in the country". I remember crank calls, too, as well as crank phones. We had one of those when I was in high school...not the kind on the wall. That's what J's parents had. Ours was a desk type that sat on a box, with a crank.

We do have cell phones. I believe it was mid 90's when we got one. We've used it for everything from calling to check with the kids while traveling, to reporting an accident we were in. Last spring I had mine at the hospital, when we found out J had to stay longer than expected. I called the hotel, where I stay, when he's in hospital, rather than drive th e 100 mile trip everyday. When we got the news of a release delay, I was able to call the hotel right away. We gave Xanti one, when she began to drive...she's on our calling plan.

Moannie said...

Nice story, Sandi, and yes, I agree, you do have a habit of hitting the memory banks. As for kids and mobile phones...I agree they have there uses, to call us to reassure us they are where they said they would be...humm! and for emergencies, but not for texting their friends who are usually ten yards away or for videoing fights.

I remember when there were telephone exchanges and 'I'm connecting you now, madam. God, I'm old.

joan said...

Hi Sandi,

Great story. I know about party lines but can't remember them. Love how you talked for forty five minutes to someone with the wrong number and I totally agree with you that too many kids rule their parents.

Maggie May said...

I remember the party lines and how, as a child, I annoyed neighbours by talking rubbish to school friends for hours, blocking their calls & probably running up bills. There was many a dispute about that, between neighbours.
I enjoy your memories.

Sally said...

Such a great post, Sandi!

I remember party lines as well; and the first time we actually had a phone. It was on the wall and you had to "crank" it. hahaha I loved listening in on other people; of course, I was only five years old. :)

In later years, I remember getting calls from a woman asking for "John". Each time I'd tell her, she had the wrong number. This went on for weeks. Finally, one night she called and I said "Well, he's in the shower right now." hahaha She never called back!

I hope you and your family have a blessed Christmas.

Lee said...

Great story, Sandi! My family didn't have a party line as far as I know. We lived in a small town and the first phone I remember had its own number. The nice thing was that it was only one number off from Grandmother's phone number and therefore easy for me to remember at that young age. This was before 5th grade, so before 1961.

Stay warm over there, Sandi! We're having pretty cold weather here and I want to know you are warm as toast cause I sure ain't.

Hugs!
Lee

Brit' Gal Sarah said...

LOL great post Sandi, love the old tales, I just can't imagine sharing a party line!

I also totally agree about the kids having cellphones. We confiscated one off a 5th grader recently and it was an iPhone - just bloody ridiculous!

Butterfly Gardener said...

Well I don't remember party lines, that was a little before my time. I have a prepaid cell phone that I use occasionally. I do like to text message some of my family/friends -sometimes its easier than calling.
My boss is getting her 5th grader a high tech phone for Christmas which I think is REDICULUS.

Sandy said...

Oh, Sandi! You have turned back the years!! I remember when we had a phone and there were 3 other people that shared our line. The one man cussed my Mom out and we called the phone company and he lost his phone and they put him on a "banned" list!

Brenda said...

I remember the party line as young as I am hehe =)I used to love listening to the neighbor and her boyfriend. She would say im on and I would mash the button softly and listened again. I was a sneaky little thing. I still am lol.

david mcmahon said...

That will trigger all sorts of memories for many people, Sandi.

Strawberry Jam Anne said...

I really enjoyed reading that Sandi. I too can remember party lines and also remember my grandparents always seemed to have the telephone, (going back 60+ years now). Their telephone number was 2580.

Your wrong number tale has reminded me of a couple of incidents but I may do a post about them.

A x

Mary Isabella and Kiley too! said...

I loved every word. Our Granddaughter asked for a cell phone for CHRISTmas and I said no. ..Hugs...m..

The Muse said...

LOL we had party lines not too long ago! LOL

Tee aka The Diva's Thoughts said...

I so remember those party lines! My grandmother who lived in Alabama in the 70's still had a party line. I remember picking up the receiver to make a call and could hear other people on the phone and I have to hang up until they were done. What a HUGE inconvenience that was. lol

Jay said...

Haha! Yes, take the phone away, you blithering idiot! Or just get them pay-as-you-go instead of a contract, because it's unlikely to include picture messaging!

We didn't have a phone when I was young, if you wanted to call someone, it was a ten minute walk with a handful of pennies, and join the queue at the phone box!

Jeff B said...

The party lines had already come and gone by the time I was old enough to know what a phone was. I do recall rotary dial phones though and how I wax nostalgic when there's one in a movie.

Kate Coveny Hood said...

Your last point is well made. And it just goes to show how there is a negative for every positive. A camera in your phone should be a useful little items. Not the door to cellular porn!

Shrinky said...

Oh Sandi, what a wonderfully well written and brilliant post! Loved the story of the party line. I also grew up without the benefit of having a phone in the house, but then, as most of my other friends didn't have one either it never was much of an issue.

When I had the Agencies, pervs used to phone the girls there on a regular basis - you could always tell, you'd hear a delighted squeal from some desk, followed with the yell, "Girls, log on - we've got another one!!" Few callers were brave enough to tarry long. Smile.

I DO have a mobile phone, and it is permanently switched off. I figure with all my cherubs having one of their own, I prefer the luxury of being able to reach them when I want to, rather as the other way around. Works better that way. Smile.

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

Yes child centred upbringing - the parents are too stupid to have kids!

I remember the old party lines - awful things really. Thank God for progress. Now you can listen to some nitwit shout away on his cell phone whilst you sit unbearably close to the eejit on the train. Thank God we don't have guns in this country!

GoneBackSouth said...

It's amazing how far things have come in a few years. When I was at college (late 80's) I trudged up the road to queue for the phone box to call home once a week on a Sunday afternoon. I was always hung over and it was always cold. They couldn't phone me as we had no phone. No wonder my parents and I grew apart a bit during those 3 years.

Jeni said...

Party lines and obscene phone calls -what a combination! I've received my share of the obscene phone calls but the best line I think I ever heard was when a former co-worker's roommate answered the phone at their apartment and it was an obscene caller. She got all excited and told the caller,"Oh goodie, an obscene phone call. I've never had one of those before." And the caller hung up immediately!
Growing up here, we had no phone. Sometimes now, I wonder how we survived. LOL Actually, I wonder today how my daughter would survive now without the telephone! (I get very few calls.) My kids all have cell phones and it does come in handy when my daughter is out as she can call and give me her ETA or check if we need anything before she does come home. However, once she get home, her cell phone is basically useless because we get next to no reception where we live to call out or receive calls, although she can still get text messages. Therefore, I see no reason for me to invest in one of those things for myself since I very rarely go out and if I do and Mandy is going to be home, I take her cell phone with me then. They are great to have in case of emergencies, for sure -like when my van broke down 100 miles from here this past summer and I had Maya with me! It was a definite lifesaver that day to have Mandy's cell phone with me, for sure!

Dr.John said...

I remember the party line and live operators. The local numbers were short. My Aunt's Drug Store was 644 , that was the entire number.

Vee ~ A Haven for Vee said...

Oh ho! Another fun one that had me laughing out loud again. I've got to stop this. I don't have a cell phone nor do I want one either. It's bad enough to have to answer the phone when I'm home without having to do it when I'm away. Guess that I'm hopelessly old-fashioned.

Forty-five minutes, eh? You talked for 45 minutes in the middle of the night about nothing. Now that is so beyond fascinating!

Vee ~ A Haven for Vee said...

Okay, true confessions...John wanted to listen to your playlist and he didn't pop out the player. We've been sitting here for hours. Sorry! (I've been sewing and he's gone to bed. We're awful squatters.)

RBK's Realm said...

Very interesting - apart from the humor, there is a lot of history here. I found this post very educational! Thank you!

i beati said...

How well I recall those party lines !!Wow hadn't thought of that for awhile !!!Sandy

Lee said...

Good morning, Sandi! Congratulations on making David's Post of the Day list.

Hugs!
Lee

Epijunky said...

Oh Sandi, I love it! My cousin's house had a party line when I was younger and I can remember how irritated my older cousin would be when she'd pick up the phone and the line would be in use.

Congrats on your POTD! Well deserved :)

JanaBanana said...

Hi there :) How are things going for you? I loved reading about your party lines. I dont think we had that??
About the cell phones, you are so right! TAKE THE DAMN THING AWAY! Its like when you see a kid dress like a complete (insert whatever here) and the parents either complain about it or whatever. WHO buys these clothes? This generation of parents really have no clue. They would rather be their childs "friend" then actually parent them. Not I! You would swear that I was raised in the 50's and was raising my kids in the 50's! My 16 year daughter doesnt even have a cell phone. We told her when she gets all A's and B's then she would. Now our 7th grader who is an honor roll student, he got one. But the first time his grades slip the phone is off in a drawer until they are brought up :)

Lynn@ The Vintage Nest said...

LOL....GL3-5555

Remember the letters?

Stesha said...

Congrats Sandi,
I love this story, I work for Bellsouth and I hear the older reps. talk all the time about the party line days.

Indrani said...

You have taken us all back in time! Great post and Congrats on the Award!

lmerie said...

LOL - blithering idiots! HA!

There is a telephone museum about 45 minutes out of town in a desolate little place they call a town. But it was a fun museum, and the gentleman guide enjoyed talking about the party line - that and throwing the old crank phones in the pond to kill and catch fish (which is illegal - do what??) hehe

Anyway I would share pictures, but they did not allow pictures to be taken in the antique telephone museum. Guess they think someone will steal their technology- Ha!

Jessica said...

I've heard stories of party lines before! It's hard to believe that phones have become such a standard in such a short amount of time! Wonderful story! I'm so glad I stumbled upon your blog! :)

Hadriana's Treasures said...

Great story Sandi. In a way I wish mobile phones (cell phones) had never been invented...my mum always texts me which drives me crazy. It'd be nice if she phoned me instead! Have a great Christmas and a wonderful New Year...may all your wishes come true! Hx

Tattie Weasle said...

Love the stories. I too can't see what need there is to have a mobile/cell phone but I am very partial to my ansaphone as I hate missing calls but loathe answering the telephone when someone drops by for a cuppa and/or a chat!

SandyCarlson said...

My dad was an installer, and he had loads of phone stories. He used to tell us to say nothing on the phone! Great advice.

Thanks for stopping by, Sandi.

Hilary said...

Great post. I vaguely remember party lines from when we spent our summers at a cottage. I don't have a cell phone either but my sons do. We got one for my younger son when he began working part time, with unpredictable hours. We were otherwise unable to reach him. My older son is independent and got his own. Presumably neither of them take inappropriate photos. :)