When doing research for a previous article I ran across some footage of a “Teleskater”. Women in dresses wore roller skates and glided back and forth in front of a huge switchboard somehow connecting random lines to switchboard operators who finished the call. That reminded me of how much the telephone has evolved.
I bet you remember playing telephone as children. By connecting the bottoms of two paper cups, metal cans, or plastic bottles with tautly held string you could supposedly hold a conversation across the back yard.
And wasn’t it fun to prank call people and ask them the famous question “is your refrigerator running? Better go catch it!” Or “do you have Sir Walter Raleigh in a can? Better let him out!” Amusing, unless of course, you were on the other end of that practical joke.
We can’t forget the party line. Growing up, our good neighbors shared the line with us. I would pick up the phone, hear Norma chatting and “discreetly” replace the phone in the cradle. After I repeatedly “inconspicuously” checked to see if she was done, Norma would just give up and finish her call so I would quit interrupting her conversation. The long winding cord attached to our bright blue home telephone was great for hiding in the nearby closet for a private conversation.
In my much younger days, I was a sales representative in my dad’s food brokerage business. As a frequent traveler I would play “telephone tag” with my customers. I would stop at a roadside pay phone, make a call and often times have to leave a message. An hour down the road I would stop again to check in with my office and find out that the customer had returned my call. So, I would call them back and naturally they were in a meeting or out to lunch so “tag” they were it, and it was their turn to call back. The worst was when it was raining cats and dogs and I would be in my car, window open and getting soaked to the skin as I tried to enter the numbers on the dial pad.
Now I question how I ever made it from one state to another without relying on “Siri” to tell me to proceed 30 miles, merge left, turn right or that I am being redirected for ignoring her instructions. I guess I depended on reading a map although I do recall frequently stopping at gas stations to ask for directions. Then I worried that perhaps that helpful guy behind the counter sent me the wrong way on purpose, just for a laugh. Plus, those obstinate maps never folded back up the same way. When I finally did get my first mobile phone it was the size of breadbox.
Many people have now given up their landlines in favor of their mobile phones. Seems somewhat silly to pay for both when most of the calls coming in on the landline are people either trying to sell you stuff or ask for donations. Although sometimes, landlines still come in handy during storms in case the power goes out or cell service is interrupted.
Norma Joan Maxwell, a parishioner at Waynedale UMC, and I got to chatting about the telephone. Norma is 89 years old and spent 40 years working in the office at Maxwell Tree Expert Company, Inc. We agreed that the telephone is the “Director of First Impressions” and how we were always taught to smile when we answered so we sounded welcoming. She particularly considers the phone as essential as it is her link in staying connected with her lifelong friend Pat who lives in Florida now.
Maybe at our next family gathering I will get the “telephone” game going. For those of you not familiar, everyone gets in a circle. The first person whispers a silly phrase like “candy crunching coconut lover” to the person next to them, but only one time. They pass the phrase along to the next and so on until the final person in the circle repeats it out loud. Rarely does it ever end up how it was started. Most likely it will end up “can’t live without my silly cell phone.”