Monday, August 29, 2011

The Land Line

"Hang on. I'll get her."
There were outlets already in the walls.  The one I saw first is on the corner, right where you turn to get anywhere else in their new house.  The kids had no idea what it was.

"It's for your home phone," was perfectly clear to me but was met with blank stares by Messers 6 and 8.  "You attach a phone.... um... a big plastic box with a cord that's attached...." and they were gone, off to use their computers, devices which fit in the palm of their hands and could be purchased by the careful hoarding of allowances and birthday gifts.  A box with a cord... not in their world.

I started to say "When I was 8..." but by then only Elizabeth was interested in my reminiscences.  She's a kind-hearted child and has yet to grow tired of my stories.  I worry about over-talking her but she promises to tell me when I become boring so I share what it was like when I was a girl.

I guess if I want to be a grandmother I'd better embrace the entirety of the package...and that seems to include feeling every one of my 59 and one half years.  Yesterday was my half birthday.  The next 6 months are an inexorable count-down to an age when even I will have to admit that I'm probably a grown-up by now.  So I sucked the angst back into my core and I fed her a stream of consciousness tale that went something (actually hardly anything) like this:
My mom remembers being among the first on her block to have a phone.  She lived next door to her best friend, Gladys, in Brooklyn, where next door was literally the very next door, attached to the other side of her 6 flat.  
G'ma's house in Brownsville, circa 2011
Back then there were no chain-link fences separating the two halves of the building, and the girls could sit on the ledge and dream.  Her father and Glady's father built it together, the one a paper-hanger and the other a painter but each fresh off the boat and pretty proud of themselves.  As well they should have been.
She remembers putting in a hat-pin in the front hall mirror when the phone rang as the radio was announcing that the Japanese were bombing Pearl Harbor.  I imagine the princess phone sitting on my night stand 
was as strange to her as the land line is to you.  And even though I've turned that simile on its head I hope you follow my drift.  These are reminiscences, after all, and we old people have a tendency to wander and get confused.
AT&T used to own all the telephones in the USofA.  Hard to believe, but it's true.  Homeowners could rent the devices from the company, but, just like the cable box of today, you had to return the set when you moved.  Want some more?  It was considered stealing if a homeowner added an outlet without paying AT&T for the privilege.  Yes, they made it a crime to redecorate your home.
My favorite old phone story is of Daddooooo taking out his rage against the machine, against the man, against the fates and mostly against the phone company itself which had the audacity to tell him what he could do within the confines of his own home.  When the world seemed most out of control you could find my father on his hands and knees, wires and tools in abundance, hooking up another outlet.  They were in his closets and in his bathrooms long before 5 star hotels ever thought of the notion.
Every parent raising kids in the 1950's and '60's and '70's has a story which includes "but the cord doesn't reach to the bathroom....." The phone belonged to the whole family; G'ma's parents paid extra to avoid having a party line.... which was kind of like an un-filtered twitter of your life... and only the luckiest kids (the ones with the smartest parents) had a Children's Line listed in the phone book.
Which brings us back to the beginning of this post.  I called Amster on the house phone and Mr. 8 picked it up.  I only know it was he because he told me so after I asked.  We are going to have to work on telephone manners, it seems.  I asked if his mom was around and he said
 "Sure. Hang on. I'll get her."
And I gasped, because that was a sentence I hadn't heard in a long long time.  Hang on.... and I was right back to being 16 and literally hanging onto the cord of that princess phone, talking to my sweetie and twisting the coils around and around and then the other way and sproingggg and by the time Amster got to the phone I didn't need to ask if I could borrow a different piece of her life for today's post.  I'd found it when Mr. 8 answered the phone. 


  1. Oh, Boy, I remember the home phone! Ralph and I were just talking that we both remember our home phone number from growing up. It's easy for me because my sister lives in my parents house and still has the same number!

  2. I remember our home phone number - 5555 W.

    I believe that was in the olden times!


  3. I remember mine, and Toni's and my cousins, ROckville Center 4 or 6 were our prefixes. Do you remember when they added area codes? HOW would we remember all those numbers???

  4. I mentioned a car phone in one of my classes and none of my students knew what it was. I had to google a picture of it and they were simply mystified by the idea of this large phone being in your car, attached by a cord!

  5. My mom still has white(ish) Princess phone on her nighstand in Maryland. It still works. I'm looking forward to teaching the ninos how to dial!


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