Monday, March 20, 2017

3 Short and 1 Long

Who remembers the rotary dial phones? And who remembers party lines? And of how your phone number was so closely associated to the other three, four, five residences on your "party" that mis-choosing one digit meant a wrong call?

When I say party line, I do NOT mean this:

Around either 1963 or 1964, we had our first telephone installed.

Yes, installed.

Having a telephone in those days was quite the procedure. You didn't stroll into Walmart (for one thing, Walmart didn't exist back then), race to the phone aisle, and cry, "I want that one!"

There were no telephone "stores", period.

You had to be home, or someone had to be home and wait for the telephone man to drive up. (It was always a man, never a telephone woman)

He got out of his van and got to work. First, he needed to come inside, find out where you wanted the phone to set, and then installed the "jack". Next, he went outside, climbed a few telephone poles because he added a new line all the way down to our house. Finally, he came back inside and plugged the end of the wire into that new jack.

And then he brought in your phone.

And, amazingly, you were allowed to choose any color you wanted - as long as it was black.

This photo is of the 1970's telephones. Yep, color was in vogue. Note the coiled cord. 

Back in the 1960's, though, all phones were black and came with a straight, spaghetti thin cord. It did curl, however. After usage, that cord would become so coiled with knots, when trying to straighten 'em out, you felt like you tussled with a boar in a sack.

And the fight didn't matter, either, 'cause that cord would always tangle again.

So, after the telephone man left your house, you had your phone.

One phone to a residence, people. Only millionaires could afford an "extension". 

And now you possessed a wonderful, exciting, brand new telephone number.

A number that you shared with a "party" consisting of your four neighbors. The numbering system ran something like this: the Smith's number was 555-4354, the Jones' number was 555-4355, the Lloyd's was 555-4356, the Winter's was 555-4357, and Your Number was 555-4358.

And your ring was three short and one long.

Because the Smith's was two short and two long.

The Jones' was one long and three short.

The Lloyd's was two long and two short.

The Winter's was four short.

So that left yours to be three short and one long.

Got it? 

The phone would ring a lot, because someone was always getting calls. You stood still, listening. 

Count it down - is that your ring? Oh, nope. That was the Jones. Hmm. Someone was calling them a lot today. They'd already gotten four calls. Who in the world could they be talking to?

So you'd tiptoe over, gently lift the receiver, and listen in.

Oh, yeah.

Everybody eavesdropped on everybody else. And, of course, sometimes everybody would talk to everybody else. That's how it'd be a party. See?

But if some moron, after they decided to stop yakking, forgot to put their receiver back on the hook...Well, that was worse than bad manners. That'd get you a snub, a glare, and a freezer shoulder next time you met up at your local five-and-dime.  


Because that unhung phone receiver meant that four other families could NOT CALL OUT. 

You always prayed that no one figured out you'd been the moron who hadn't set the receiver just right. 

It was just too embarrassing to try and explain that your mind was elsewhere - like ordering your legs to gallop past the kitchen door on your way to the nearest outhouse. (Yes. Outhouse. That's a topic for another post)

Ah. Those golden years of the 1960's. 

I can't remember our phone number, but I do remember the number of the rings.

How about you? Were you part of the fun of belonging to a party line?


Zaggy Waggydog said...

Ooooh, I remember. Yep, the first telephone in my history had the earpiece separate from the mouthpiece. It was a black desk model and we had to hold the earpiece with one hand while the other hand stabilized the tall cylindrical mouthpiece base. The cords were heavy and straight and covered with tightly woven textile. Classy! There were three families on our party line. Back then telephone numbers began with names or words. Ours began with Tyler, TY---.

Miss Mae said...

@ZaggyWaggydog, I think you must be recalling the kind shown on Andy Mayberry? Our black phone was a desk model, but not that tall skinny one. I always thought those were cool, and later, my mother bought one, including a replica of a phone box, to put on her wall.

Our phone numbers didn't start with names and we never had a "Sarah". Sounds like your system was much more homey.

Thanks for coming over. Visit often! :)

Zaggy Waggydog said...

Yes, I guess it was like the Mayberry phones, but it had a rotary dial (no "Sarah" either). Later we modernized to a black desk phone that had low sloping lines and a hand receiver, older than your green phone picture above though. We had that phone forever. I used to covet my friends' stylish pastel-colored "princess" phones. As long as our ancient heavy clunker worked there was no reason to buy anything new. And it refused to die.

Miss Mae said...

Ah, built so much better than the 21st century phones. They die consistently, so they can be tossed into the telephone graveyards.

I remember our old black phone never tearing up once. And you rented them, too, you couldn't buy them. If you moved, you had to return the phone and they recycled it to another family/house.

Julie Elizabeth Powell (pen) said...

Yes, I remember it all.

Julie Elizabeth Powell (pen) said...

Yes, I remember it all.

J Q Rose said...

No, we didn't have a party line because my dad ran the ambulance service in our area and had to have a dedicated line. ---except when I talked to my friends for hours on the phone till my mother told me someone could be needing an ambulance and couldn't get through because the line was busy with my talking. I felt terrible. What if somebody died while I was talking about boyfriends to my best friend??? We only had 4 numbers for phone numbers. Didn't get the 7 digits till later. And remember the cord? No privacy to talk on the phone cause you couldn't leave the table where the phone was sitting or handing on the wall. Great memories. Thanks.

Noelle Evvalee said...

I don't remember this I'm to young.

Miss Mae said...

Your dad, what was the undertaker, ran the ambulance service????


Miss Mae said...

@Noelle Evvalee, you sure were too young, but I thought you might enjoy learning how it was done. Thanks for coming over!

P.L. Parker said...

I remember phones when we had a party line and no dial. Just picked it up and asked for a number. My youngest son ran into a rotary dial phone and wanted to make a call and I had to show him how to use it. Was an exciting time at our house when we got a phone.

Miss Mae said...

That is so cool about your son, Patsy. Thanks for coming over! :)

Hywela Lyn said...

I do remember those old rotary phones - I don't think we ever had a party line though. We thought we were the 'bees knees' when we got a cream phone to replace our old black one. Thanks for the trip down 'memory lane'!

Miss Mae said...

@Hywela Lyn, you're very welcome for the trip down. Would love to hear how it was in "merry ol' England" during those decades. Care to share? :)

Lady Vintage said...

So this is where Granny's love of telephones began...;)

Gina said...

What a great post! I remember hearing my mother talking to my aunt Marie (her sister) and laughing about 'back when we had party lines'; I missed the real thing, though. But when I got older I took a job writing greeting cards in a very big greeting card company. On a company tour as a new employee, they showed us a huge bank of operators at a switchboard (like Lily Tomlin's 'Ernestine' character). It was amazing! Now the greeting card company, like the party lines you so beautifully captured here, is just a bit of nostalgia as times have changed so much. But I just love and treasure vintage everything - so much so, that these days I am a writer about vintage jewelry! Thanks again for such a fascinating post :)

Miss Mae said...

@Lady Vintage, thanks for stopping by! :)

Miss Mae said...

You're very welcome, Gina. So glad you visited, and loved reading about the bank of operators. Wow!

Larry Hammersley said...

Miss Mae: I am having problems with my computer, unable to receive emails via Outlook although I can send them out. I go to xfinity email and can access the received emails there. I will see if you get this and did see the tiny arrow your referred to. As I said I can access my received emails via xfinity.com so far that hasn't been a problem. I'm going to buy a new computer and find someone who can operate a flash drive and move everything to the new computer. Here's hoping I can get back to this again. Larry