Editor’s Musings - Before the Cord Was Cut: Old Time Phones and Other Oddities

by Beth Weber

When I was growing up, an old-time phone was a big wooden box that hung on the wall at my grandparent’s home, later to be made into a decorative planter or sold to an antique shop. I laughed at their tales of party lines and special ring combinations. “We were two long and one short.” The system seemed impossibly quaint. We were so much more sophisticated back in the 70s.

Ha. Now when I tell my grandkids about our phones, they are amazed we lived with such a ridiculous system. “Phone cords? No privacy? NO TEXTING?”
Right. BACK IN MY DAY (they sigh), we had one phone, and it was placed in the living room on a bookcase. When I made or received a call, I usually had to talk with an audience present. Either my mother or brothers were in the room, probably watching TV. I had to speak to my friends with the sound of Matt Dillion in the background or maybe the Carol Burnett show. As a result, we had to use code if the subject was boys. And the subject was usually boys. My mother kept one ear cocked to make sure nothing untoward was going on.
As we got older, we asked Mom to have a second phone installed or at least to invest in a long phone cord, preferably one that reached into our bedrooms. She pointed out that a second line would cost money to install and a long phone cord stretched across the length of the house was a tripping/strangulation hazard. Her reasons were logical, but I think she liked making me talk in front of her, especially when a steady boyfriend entered the picture. She didn’t have to monitor my Facebook page: she eavesdropped on my phone conversations. Her hearing was amazing. She could be using the mixer in the kitchen and still hear me whisper a plan to break curfew.
Now, of course, my eight-year-old grandson instructs me on how to more efficiently use my cell phone. He has been texting me since he was six. The concept of dialing a phone is impossibly strange to him. I assume by the time he is my age, he will be able to mentally transmit his thoughts without any phone at all.
I am not dissing the cell phone. I love my cell phone and wouldn’t trade it for my old landline. Still, everything that makes us more independent seems to isolate us as well. Having the family monitor your communications wasn’t always a bad thing. Mom's listening helped keep me out of trouble.