My brother in Alaska called me on Mother’s Day. We chatted about our kids, our grandchildren, their sports accomplishments, their high marks in school. We talked for almost an hour.
It occurred to me later that we had far exceeded the 3-minute call of days gone by. I remember my parents kept an egg timer by the phone so that one might keep track of the expensive long-distance time on the phone. We did not indulge in idle chatter, that was for sure.
Our phone number was 76, ring 2-1, which meant that calls directed to us on our less-costly party line rang two long and one short if it was for us. Private lines got one sedate ring. We knew who our fellow party line members were and we “listened in” on them all. If you caught or suspected someone of eavesdropping on your conversations you were expected to be indignant and order the person to hang up. It was OK to break in on a conversation in an emergency. Like the time my little brother swallowed lighter fluid.
Whenever the phone rang past 9 p.m. it meant bad news, usually that someone had died. The phone ringing at that hour caused everyone in the house to stop, and wait for the news, which was most assuredly bad. This was during the war and you kept the phone clear because all phone calls were important ones. “Don’t tie up that line!”
How impossibly science fiction we thought when Maxwell Smart got calls on his shoe phone.
During my teenage years the rules of the phone were much less stringent because parents had not gotten around to recognizing that teenagers could talk for hours about nothing. It didn’t cost anything extra, so no harm done. Our conversations had a Marty quality: “Whadya doin’? ” “Not much, whaddyou doin’.” Sometimes we would congregate at a friend’s house in the evening. And that someone’s parents would be out for the evening. Then we would pick a number from a local college fraternity listed in the phonebook and chat aimlessly with anyone who happened to answer the call. We would claim to be 18, not the more probable 14, and give phony names. Most likely the guys that talked to us were losers or they wouldn’t be spending time with equally loser adolescent girls from the local Catholic girls high school.
Today, all my grandchildren have phones. When I dared to question the need for such a frivolous gadget, it was explained to me by each parent that children NEED cell phones these days. If school is canceled, the cell phone tells them. If they miss assignments, the can get them on the cell phone. If they need a ride home, they call Mom and ask her to pick them up.
A few weeks ago my son called and said “I just took a picture of the pope on my phone. I’ll send it to your computer.” This same son watches movies on the phone when he visits.
I have a cell phone, but it doesn’t work here.