Wednesday, March 11, 2009


March 11, 2009 phone

You will know I am old one when I tell you that the phone of my childhood had a round dialer with 10 little holes around the perimeter of the dial. There was a number, along with some letters, assigned to each. You’d stick your finger into one of the holes and roll it toward the silver half moon next to number “1…abc”. It took a bit of time to dial a number, especially a long distance one, and any numbers that had excessive “0’s” took extra long. This is how we were taught patience in our generation. Some of us learned. Some didn’t. The sound of the phone ringing was the clanking of a metal hammer against a real metal bell somewhere buried inside the hard plastic casing. Phone cords hung like shriveled up Slinkies down the wall in the kitchen, stretched and twirled into themselves, so when you answered the phone and had to take it over to Mom who was at the stove, it yanked you back to the wall until you uncurled it with your fingers. We were taught phone etiquette as kids; things like: always answer pleasantly, but when the person on the other end asks for your parents reply with “Whom, may I ask, is calling?” And if someone asks for you, then you were to reply “This is she.” It was also against the law to call anyone before 10 o’clock on a Saturday morning., Even if you knew Sherry Payne was up and watching the Monkees on TV, it was illegal to call the Payne’s house before 10, or anyone else’s house. Certain hours of the day are sacred in their privacy.
Phone numbers sometimes had letters to help you remember them. You’d have to look at the dial and figure out what letter coordinated with what number, so that was always a pain. But you did tend to remember the numbers. There is a musicality to telephone numbers. They sort of sing when you say them, probably because of the rhythm of the pattern. I can still hear in my head the commercial from my early childhood…Eight Oh Oh… three two five….three five three five. Just for fun I just now dialed that number and lo and behold, it is still the number for Sheraton Hotels! I can’t believe it!!! I’ll bet Libby knew this, since she was over Sheraton's Reservations Training for seventeen international offices before she decided corporate life was going to eat away her heartstrings. So she quit and came home to us! Yay for Libby!
I’ll bet you Libby and George and AM can tell you the phone number of our childhood. Quick, do you remember your own childhood phone number? 412-655-4547. Before that I think it was 653-1864. I’m not sure why I remember that number, but I know it is a Pleasant Hills prefix. Now that is diving back. My kids could sing you their childhood phone number…ready kids…do you hear the music? Four five one two eight three one…repeated four times, following the song “I know my number, my te-lephone number….”
It seems the fate of the land line is currently in jeopardy. We live our lives in cells these days. Last night I was at John and Ashley’s and John mentioned that he saw on Facebook that it was Tom Shults’ Birthday. I picked up their phone and dialed Tom’s number to wish him a happy one. Some robotic voice on the phone told me that I could not dial long distance on this telephone without an access code. What the???? “We don’t have long distance on our land lines, Mom,” John said. We use our cells for those. See what I mean? Pretty soon every aspect of our lives will be so portable we will no longer need homes. We can pitch one of those tents outside of Sacramento and live with the homeless without skipping a beat. I can hear it now, out there in the community of a large tent city. No electricity, port-a-potties, campfires, and cell phones ringing through the wild night air.


  1. yes i knew that was the number for sheraton reservations. still use to sing that on the way to school and in the girls locker room during rec night. i still like the 4547 number and i think mom tried to get that number when first moving into the condo. and remember when we were at aunt enda's and had a party line. you use to have to wait for the neighbor to hang up before you could make a call. no private conversations there! great blog.

  2. Elgin 7 - 3345. And we didn't even have area codes in those days. You had to dial 0 to make a long distance call to Aunt Becky or Aunt Mae. And when you were at Aunt Mae's you just picked up the phone and asked for 345J and that would get you to Aunt Mary. We had a party line in Shelley. And so when the phone rang you had to wait and count the number of rings to decide if the phone was for your number or the neighbors. I think we shared the line with 3 other families. Of course the way everyone knew everyone else's business and what was happening in town was to listen in on the line. But you had to cover the mouth piece so they couldn't hear you breathing. One day we had a fire in the field behind our house which also butted up against 3 neighbors houses. Sherry picked up the phone to call the fire department and she heard, "Oh yes, the field behind the house is on fire." And Sherry said in her most authoritative voice, "Yes and if you would get off the phone I could call the fire house."
    And speaking of those old rotary phones, when I was a BYU in the 60's and early 70's we had a touch-tone phone. When I moved to California in 1973 there wasn't a touch-tone phone to be had. I couldn't figure it out. Why would a little town like Provo, Utah have touch-tone and a big city like San Francisco still have rotary phones. Well after I had worked at good old Ma Bell for a couple of years, I found out that Mountain Bell always got all the new phone features first. Why - because it was the least populated area and so that is where AT&T & Western Electric did all their testing of any new features. Cool huh?

  3. Your last comment about living in tents, but having cell phones reminded me of our Humanitarian trips to Mexico. We gather and different supplies (depending on the trip!) to "our" little village in Central Yucatan.

    Where the men work for about 12 cents a day, and the women, at home do whatever they can to trade with another "work at home" mom. One house does tortillas, one house weaves, one house sews, etc. They all have dirt floors and sticks for walls. Thatch roofs and if lucky, portions of sticks that open for a door or a window.

    Anyway... these fine people, with huge hearts and great dedication to living - own next to nothing, struggle to make a living, struggle to feed their families...
    and a few beg on the streets (closer to the cities...they don't beg in these little towns...they have a great deal of self respect and honor in doing for themselves)

    Some of the little towns have one or two phones. A few "higher ups" from the government have phones....but those that beg on the streets... ALL HAVE CELL PHONES!

    Hmmmmm - which of these tugs more at your heart strings....

    exactly - that's why we dedicate our efforts to the fine, honorable, small villages.

    Thanks for your great and inspirational writings....sorry I took up so much comment space!

    and yes, I too remember my phone number from my childhood!