As soon as I turned 16, Mom said it was time for me to get a summer job. She drove me around to restaurants near and far until I had my very first job. The first job, I told you about already. That was at M-76 Drive-In .
When I got a little older, Dad took me over to Bell Telephone, so I could take a test and maybe get a job as an operator. He introduced me to a bunch of people, like I was the best thing he ever made. Back when I was a little girl, and even since I’ve been grown up, operators were super-duper important. Operators could save a person’s life.
Way back to the beginning of my memory and until I was somewhere around six, we had a crank phone and a party line. I could get my friend Betty with two longs and a short. The operator was one ring. It could be short or long. The operator got the call out to where it needed to go. The operator could even find somebody’s dad if she needed to.
Later, when we got a phone with a dial, we used the operator if we needed to call long-distance or if we needed help, like an ambulance or a fire truck. We never needed that kind of help, just the long distance kind.
We had a party-line back then. Everybody did. Maybe rich people could have a private-line. I never knew anyone that rich. A party-line wasn’t about having a party, it was about sharing. Five or six families used the same line. Everybody had a different ring, and you only picked up the phone and answered if you heard your ring. You could pick up the phone and listen-in on neighbors, but that was rude and impolite and not nice, and nosey on top of that. If I picked up the phone to call a friend and somebody else was talking, I had to hang up right away and not remember or tell who was on the line, let alone what they said.
Monopolizing a party-line was rude, too. You only said what you needed to say and got off, cuz maybe somebody else needed the phone. If I heard a click while I was talking to Betty or Daylene, or Diann, or Connie, we said goodbye right away. Dianne and Betty were on my party-line, but Daylene and Connie lived in town, so they had different party-lines. A click meant somebody needed the line. It was bad manners to keep on talking if somebody needed the line. There could be an emergency, or something really important someone needed to know.
Dad sold extensions for Ma Bell. Back then, people didn’t really own phones, they rented them. It cost extra for extensions and even more if the family wanted something other than black or if they wanted a Princess phone, which was sleek and slim and came in lots of colors. Dad talked people into new phones when he went to houses to fix the phone or line. Once he even sold a phone for a woman’s bedroom. That woman answered the door in a red nightie, and Dad was super-nervous and sweating about putting a Princess phone in her bedroom. That is, until he saw a “giant of a man, naked and smiling” in her bed. I never knew whether that made Dad feel less nervous or more, but it sure made Mom laugh her guts out when he told that story.
We still had a party line when I had my first high school boyfriend, Wayne. I wasn’t allowed to call Wayne, because for one thing, girls weren’t supposed to call boys. Besides, he was long-distance. Long-distance cost extra money, and we had none of that. Wayne called me, and we talked and talked and talked. Sometimes we ran out of things to say and just listened to each other breathe. We only had one phone, so I stretched the cord up behind the stairway door, so I could get some privacy. Even in our house, people were supposed to be polite and never listen-in to phone conversations.
Of course, sometimes sisters can be mean. Deanna showed me how to lift the receiver really slow, putting my finger under to clicker, and letting it up so slow, nobody could hear the click. She covered the talking end of the receiver, so her breath wouldn’t give her away. She could listen-in to anyone’s conversation that way Even mine.
If I heard the click, meaning someone wanted to use the phone, Wayne and I kept hanging out on the phone. Once Diann’s mom, Mrs. C said, “Get off the phone,” in a super-aggravated voice. I hung up without even saying goodbye. Good-golly, love can make a person do some really rude and impolite things, and can even drive a somebody else to be that way. I felt my heart beat in my ears after Mrs. C got so bent out of shape.
I knew right away that I failed the operator test. The whole thing required copying numbers from one page to the next. I never did get the hang of remembering phone numbers. I kept turning the page, writing, turning the page back, erasing, turning it back again. Dad never told me the results. I bet he was super-disappointed and maybe mystified, cuz I was a math whiz, so why in the devil couldn’t I remember phone numbers?
Dad got over his disappointment and I soon regained his pride. I went on to other jobs, many requiring me to remember numbers. I came up with tricks to help me remember and to catch my mistakes when I made them. I still have a difficult time remembering phone numbers, but I no longer need to. Thanks to “favorites” and speed-dial, and a built-in phone directory, the only number I need to remember is my own.
There’s no such thing party-lines, long-distance or phone etiquette anymore. People talk to anyone, anywhere. And sometimes they don’t even talk. They message, and text, and Snap-Chat, and FaceBook. Sometimes I find myself recalling “conversations” where no one utter a word.
Do you remember party-lines and phone etiquette? Do you long for the good old days, or are you content with more efficient ways of communicating? Or is it really more efficient?