I am really about to demonstrate my age, here. Remember that phrase (those of you who are old, like me) “Information, please?” Do you remember calling the operator by dialing “O,” and saying, “Information, please” to get to what is now called “directory assistance?”
Gee, this is stirring up memories….remember calling long-distance with help of an operator? “Station-to-station” was cheaper because it meant that you would speak to whomever answered the phone. “Person-to-person” meant that you designated the recipient of the call, and you were not charged if you did not get your person, which meant it was more expensive when you did get your party.
A long-distance call was reason for urgency. I can remember hearing: “Hurry, it’s long-distance!” when someone would call from out of town.
“Collect” meant that the person on the receiving end of the call would accept the charges. We still do this today, however, mostly the collect calls we receive at our office are from the jail…
There was a “trick” that was played on the Ma Bell system to escape long-distance charges. When family members had a journey to make, such as leaving Grandma’s house for out-of-town home after a holiday celebration, it was customary to call and let your family know you “made it home.” To spare the phone bill, sometimes one could call “person-to-person” or “collect” for an imaginary person back at Grandma’s. Of course, she would not accept the call, but knew that her family had arrived safely. Voila!! Free of charge!
And, do you remember “party lines?” We never had one in my memory, but I knew people who did, and I believe they remained more prevalent in rural areas, where the lines were not so numerous. I’m not sure how they worked, but it seems that several homes would share the same lines.
Each number had a different “ring,” so each family knew when a call was meant for them; but anyone else along the line who wanted could eavesdrop on the conversations going on at the other numbers. There were those I knew who became adept at slowly lifting up the receiver, while holding the button down with a finger. That finger would then slowly let the button up, so that the listener could hear the conversation going on without being detected. Privacy just could not be had on a party line.
And, then, came the new-fangled “direct dial,” where you just dialed 1+the area code+the phone number. No operator required! In my childhood, our entire state had only one area code, so there was not need to dial the area code within our state borders. We now have four state area codes.
And, telephone styles! I’ve been through many in my lifetime. I remember this black number from my early childhood. The last person I remember having one was MIL, who refused to pay the premium price for the colored version. I don’t blame her, really, why pay extra for different-colored plastic. And, remember, we did not own the telephones….Ma Bell did. There was no such thing as going to Target or Best Buy and picking your phone up. The “telephone man” would bring the equipment with him(they were always men in those days… “operators", however, were always women, as I recall) . I still remember watching an installation man unpack the phones, pulling the curled cords out of clear plastic and snapping them together.
Only later did we add a matching “extension” telephone in the master bedroom.
Extensions were becoming fashionable in the early 60’s—I can recall as a young child being impressed with families who had more than one telephone in the home. These would be extensions, only, and I knew of no family who had more than one phone line (more than one number) in the home until I was in my teens. And those tended to be “rich” folks, whose listings in the phone book included the added listing, “Children’s Phone.” Wow! What luxury!
Extensions, however, proved the same privacy danger as party lines. If one was having a “private” conversation on one phone, it was possible to slowly join in from the extension, sometimes undetected.
And, by the way, I still remember which phone number “prefixes” (the first three numbers) were the ritzy parts of town. In my town, if your number began with 225-XXXX, then you were definitely more uptown than that indicated by the numbers V and I had, which began, 565-XXXX which were distinctly middle-class.
Originally, those prefixes actually had “names” to help us remember them. These coordinated with the alphabet letters shown on the particular number. Our 565 prefix was “Locust,” to correspond with the “L” and “O” on the 5 and the 6 of the dial. 225 numbers were “Capital,” while 665-XXXX would have been “Mohawk 5-XXXX.”
When I was a teenager I was granted my wish for a pink “Princess” telephone in my bedroom (the dial lit up!). V had one, too, and I can’t recall which of us got her princess phone first. She and I spent many hours on the telephone. What did we have to talk about? Heck, I don’t know, but talk, we did! It became a lifelong habit. Because it was only an extension, and not a separate number, we were often shooed off the phone by some other family member who had the nerve to want to make a call. I still speak with V most days by telephone, and sometimes we stay on waaaay too long. She is the only person I really do that with.
Cell phones just pretty much revolutionized life. In my profession, I spend lots of time on the telephone, so much so that I used to dread hearing it ring when I came home. I can remember when cell phones first became available for one’s car and thinking, “I’ll never have a car phone…I need to escape that phone someplace!” Now, of course, it is required equipment—I would not think of leaving my home without my cell phone.
And, more and more, I am finding that my clients and friends have only cell numbers, dispensing completely with a land line. I can’t do that. In my country home, there is no cell reception, so I remain tied to the land line. To tell you the truth, I don’t think I really want to give it up, even if I get reception here. I don’t know what it is, but it just seems like one ought to have a “home phone” number. And, of course, there is the listing in the phone book that would be missing if you go with cell service only. At least for now. I never use the phone book anymore, turning to the internet, instead.
So, one wonders: Will we still have paper phone books with our friends’ numbers and addresses listed in ten years? What about pay phones or “phone booths,” which used to be on every street corner but are now disappearing. I remember in my dating years that it was standard advice that girls keep a dime in their purse just in case they needed to make a call home from the pay phone. Nowadays, pay phones are few and far between, and a dime won’t cut it—I don’t even know what a phone call from one costs!
And, if you are wondering what spurred this trek down telephone-memory lane, let me just say: “I’m not sure. It’s in the middle of the night, and this is just where my mind wandered.” Go figure…insomnia does strange things. I’m just glad I have this blogging outlet!! C