This is our house phone. Well one of them. We have three, sprinkled here and there throughout the house. "What?" you say incredulously, "House phone? People still have those?" Yes. Some people do. We do. Primarily because I hear better on a landline than my cell phone. Me oh my, the things we do to accommodate my deficiencies.
A cellphone is mighty handy, I will say. I carry mine with me, nearly all the time. Oh not for talking on. I almost never have phone conversation on my cellphone. But for texting, sure. Checking emails, absolutely and taking photographs, primarily. Never while driving by the way. Never Ever Ever while driving.
I was thinking about this today while on terminal hold. I had to make a call to a local government office and naturally, once I fought my way through their maze of a phone tree, I was immediately assaulted by the loudest and worst Muzak I've ever heard while on hold. Occasionally a recorded voice broke in to assure me that my call was very important to them and someone would be with me soon. Well nobody ever did get to me and eventually the recorded voice just directed me to leave a detailed message which I did. And now I am homebound until they return my call (promptly, I'm sure because, remember, my call is important to them - hah!)
But it got me thinking about phones in general. The first telephone that I remember was the party line at my Michigan grandparents house. The phone was on a table in their dining room (why? I don't know) . It was a party line. That is, they shared the phone line with neighbors and each party had a specific pattern of rings that indicated the call was for them. My grandmother, bless her little heart, was notorious for listening in on everyone's calls. The neighbors, I need to add, were not close by. This was a farming community. LARGE farms. Other than my great grandmother's house, which was across the cornfield, you couldn't see any other houses. So the term neighbor has a loose definition. If you needed to make a call and someone else was already on the line, you had to wait. Patience was needed.
The next phone I recall was our phone in California. I even remember the number, Hopkins 65724. Back then phone numbers were letters and numbers. It was the first two letters of Hopkins so HO65724. It was easier for me to remember than just a string of what feels like random numbers. I remember the receiver being incredibly heavy. The phone was black. All phones then were black. It sat on a table against the wall between the dining and living room. I remember turning the dial, putting my little finger into the hole that corresponded to the number and turning it to the right, the resistance again the turn and the clicking sound. I even recall the strangeness of hearing a disembodied voice on the other end of the phone and overcome with shyness only whispering a very faint "yes" in response to a question before handing the phone to my mother.
If you had to make a long distance call you had to go through the operator. You picked up the receiver and dialed "0". Once she answered you requested the long distance operator. After a series of clicks she would come on the line and ask, "What city please?" She would put the call through for you. How very kind :)
I also remember that the phone would ring for a long time. In fact if the person on the other end had enough patience or nothing to do, it would ring endlessly. But it had to ring many times to allow the recipient sufficient time to get to the phone. Most household had one phone. One. And it was almost never where it was convenient to whatever you were doing when the hone rang. I think my Mother's rule was to allow for 7 rings. She felt that 7 was sufficient time for anyone to put down what they were doing and get to the phone. If they didn't answer, well, you just called again later. Once again, patience required.
By the time we lived in Texas my sister and I shared a phone in our room. Oh it was just an extension of the house phone, but it was in our room and it was a cream colour, a "princess" phone it was called. The receiver was still, at that point, tethered too the base and I've always been an itchy sort of person who finds it hard to hold still. I do remember talking on that phone for brief calls. Lying on my bed with my feet on the wall (for which I would get smacked if caught) and talking to my friends. And since there was only one actually phone number in the house, if the line was in use, you waited your turn.
In college, there was a pay phone at the end of each hall. No phone call was private. And since it required money and we were mostly poverty stricken college kids, our calls were always short and to the point. It was hard to hear on that phone too, there was almost always some sort of ruckus going on in the background which did not encourage many calls. There were a few monied kids with phones in their rooms but the rest of us made do. Getting a call was trickier. Either you had to preplan what time the other person was going to call you and then chase away anyone else wishing to use the phone while waiting, or just hope for the best. Sometimes a spontaneous phone call in meant hoping that another resident would not only answer the phone, but also take a message and more importantly pass it along to you. Good luck with that.
I do recall using phone booths on rare occasions. They always had a peculiar smell and the height of the phone required some tiptoe work for me. I recall the sound of dropping coins in the slot and the sudden dial tone once you had deposited the correct change. And then when you had used the amount of time you paid for the voice that broke in asking for more money. "Deposit ten cents please to continue your call" it would insist. And if you didn't deposit the extra dime, the call was cut off abruptly. People walking by always stared at whoever was using the phone booth. I looked either at the ceiling (cobwebs every time) or my feet to avoid those prying eyes. And it struck me funny that the phone was in, what was essentially, a closet but the walls and door were transparent, so what was the point of the doors again? Probably made it a wee bit quieter.
When I was first married and the boys were babies I had to campaign hard for a phone in the apartment. "For emergencies !" I swore! But I also talked to my mother and my sister and a few girlfriends on that phone. The cord was really long, which was necessary to reach the boys who always got into mischief the instant the phone rang. The cord was always a knotted mess that eventually had to be replaced from me accidentally travelling a farther than the length of it which would pull the clip out. Turns out it can only be plugged back in so many times before it says, "Uncle" and doesn't work anymore. There were phone message machines then, but we didn't have one. So if you didn't reach me the first time, you would have to try to call me again later. Patience required on your end.
Wireless housephones were a godsend for me. I could multi-task, finally. Well, to be fair, I was multi-tasking anyway, but now I wasn't wearing out or tangling cords doing so. And it seemed that the more mobile I was able to be, the longer the calls got. It was not at all unusual for my sister and I to be talking on the phone and her to say, "What's that echo sound?" and my response, "Sorry, I'm cleaning the toilet". We would both laugh and then keep talking. Probably not very polite, but efficient. It's all fine working around the house while talking on the phone. But there are times when even I do not multi-task phone and something else.
I see people walking around with those headset phones. Some of them fit over the head like a hairband, and others just stick out of their ears. I'm sure that is very handy but no thank you. I suppose those are folks whose jobs require that they are ever reachable. I think I'm good with not being quite so available. If I'm at the grocery store, I'm grocery shopping. If I'm driving, I'm only driving, that's it, nothing else. If I'm hiking somewhere on another photo safari, I'm focused on that and only that. If I'm out with friends, in a restaurant, or a doctor appointment, I ignore the phone, and in fact, I generally turn off the ringer. There are times when I do not want to divide my attention. I have voice mail capability for a reason. I honestly have received in my lifetime very few calls that required my immediate response.
Generally youngest son and his wife Skype call with us at some point during the weekend. I love that we can see each other when we talk. Conversation is so much richer, more multi-leveled when I can also see facial expressions and gestures. I can say hello to their kitties who wander past, they can show me a new shirt, they can see the new paint colour of the family room. It's just another level to the communication we already have in place.As a little girl I saw at a Future World Exposition kind of thing an example of what they thought future phones would be, I think they called it Visiphone? It was a slightly oversized phone with a teensy TV screen inbedded in it.
I cannot even begin to imagine what the next level of communication will be like but it's exciting to contemplate.
So here we are. The call that was so important to them still hasn't been returned and so I wait. I guess I could read the newspaper. Maybe do some dusting while I wait. In some ways, nothing has changed. I'm still impatient and waiting for my call. All those years of practice and I still have not developed patience. I guess it's just not in my skillset.
Yup, this is me. Some people said, "Sam, you should write a Blog". "Well, there's a thought", I thought to myself. And so here it is.