Thursday, November 21, 2013

Number Please

Growing up we had one phone in the house. It was a rotary phone similar to the one pictured above but it was a different color. It was centrally located in the living room-sitting on the edge of a bookcase my grandfather made for my mother. It sat on top of a pillow on top of that bookcase because the thing rang so loud that it sounded like an alarm despite being turned down to the lowest level. With my father being a funeral director he was called when there were accidents. There were no rescue squads back then so many times the phone rang in the middle of the night. I'd usually hear the phone-then hear him mutter some words. A few minutes later the front door would open and off he would go on what we called an 'ambulance call.'

Because of the phone's location there was no such thing as a private conversation. When friends called-words were chosen carefully. And when a boy called those words were scrutinized even more-especially with an older brother around who also used the phone-more often than not right when I wanted to or at the exact time I'd told someone I would call. Once I did get to use the phone I'd lose track of time. I'd sit on the floor in front of the bookcase in everyone's way until my mother gave me the evil eye which meant I'd been on the phone too long.

I still remember phone numbers from back then-2075 and 2049J are engrained in my head. That was the era of telephone operators so if you couldn't remember a number they would assist you. My aunt was a phone operator so it was fun when she was the one saying, "Number Please." There were phone books too-really thick ones with lots of ads and so many numbers. Sometimes my cousin and I would open the phone book up and randomly point to a number-and call it-then hang up. Or pull the standard joke-if they had Prince Albert cigars in a case-they should let him out! Click! We 'd laugh and laugh and do it again! Or even better we'd call a boy-then hang up before anyone answered. Try doing that today!

It's hard to believe how phones are now part of our wardrobe-stuck to us like glue. We are so connected that we are actually more disconnected-so dependent on that tool that we lose sight of what is around us sometimes. Instead of talking with each other we send electronic messages or check apps or play games or whatever else those things do. It all makes me miss that rotary phone sitting on a pillow. It never told me what the weather was in Hong Kong or anywhere else around the world. It never offered directions or answered any question I might have. It simply connected me for  conversation and when that conversation was over-that phone stayed on the pillow as I went on to other things. It had its place. And that is where it stayed. And I never did know what the weather was in Hong Kong!


  1. Oh, how many times I have thought about those 4-digit phone numbers we used back then, and the time I finally got up enough nerve to call the cutest boy in town. When he answered I couldn't think of anything to say! Thank you for bringing back good memories. I love your posts!