Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Party Line

I'm taking a class offered on-line through jessicasprague.com, called Stories in Hand. In a nutshell, it's a system that includes tools, guides, and a way to organize the stories that we want to tell. In the class we were presented with several downloads that include "sparks," or questions about your past. The intention is to "spark your memory," and make you think back, waaaaayyyyyy back.
One of our first writing assignments was to choose a topic from the "roots" section... there must have been over a hundred "sparks." We could write in a journal, make a scrapbook page, or blog. Of course, I chose the latter. In one of my conversations with my sister, Janie, I told her about the "spark" that I was thinking about; it was, "what technology do you remember your family having?" She shared a conversation that she had several months ago with Jennifer, my niece, her daughter, about a party line. Jennifer (age 27) had absolutely no idea what she was talking about, and I bet most folks age 50 and younger are right there in the same boat. For those of you who are clueless, let me explain.
I can remember in the 50's when I was in elementary school, we had a party line. That meant that several families shared the same line. Each family had their own ring so they would know when to answer an incoming call. Back in the day, we didn't stay on the line forever like we do now. Okay maybe my mother did when she talked to Mrs. Lewis, Jimmy's mother, about our fifth grade social studies homework. It took them several minutes to figure out what neither Jimmy nor I could explain.
There is nothing good that I can say about having a party line. It never failed that when I wanted to make a call, some unknown woman (always a woman) would be talking. The only way we could get others off of the line was to torment them. Our parents didn't behave like that, but we (kids) did. Here's an important thing: we never, absolutely never told our names. It was all secretative. There were several methods of tormentation (is that a word?). I was an expert at two of them. First, was the heavy breathing. It let them know that someone was waiting to use the phone and second, was the constant clicking. That worked the best because it drove them crazy. I picked up the phone every thirty seconds until they gave up and got off the phone. I'm sure I had something important to say to someone.
The strange thing is that I don't remember when the party line was dropped and we had our own private line. You would think that would be of utmost importance because I was approaching puberty and talking on the phone was an integral part of that period of my life.
I finally found a picture of an old telephone, but I remember ours as having a smaller handle and body. I can still remember part of our phone number. Something like JA-23565. Our telephone, we only had one, was located in our hall. But it wasn't really a hall, it was more like a room with a hall leading off in the back to the dining room. There was a Tiffany lamp placed next to the phone on a table. I can still see my mother sitting and crying there in the hall as someone on the other end had just told her that her brother (Leland Davis a newspaper reporter from Cincinnati) had died. I didn't realize the impact that had on me until now.
This picture will give you some idea of what they looked like.

Although most of us have several telephones in our homes today, we also have cell phones, blackberries, Iphones, etc. We can talk to anyone at anytime. Good grief, now we can actually see who we're talking to in real time. Below is an image of my niece courtesy of Skype. We just started using it last month and it is unreal! I know it's been around for sometime now, but I'm just getting into it.

Get this. You can even do a conference call on Skype. The only drawback is that you can't see everyone. I'm sure someone, somewhere is working on that.

From party lines to private lines to skype, can it get any better?


debra said...

A party line...yeah... I have "heard" of those before....that was the old days huh!!..lol

Karen said...

I remember the party line. A great-aunt of mine was one of the two operators in my hometown. We used to listen to the conversations till someone yelled at us to get off! I don't remember when the party line stopped; I'm thinking early sixties?