Computers have made so many things possible, including what I’m doing at this very moment. Once I finish this, I can take the document I’ve created and send it and other similar documents to a list of newspapers that subscribe to this offering for their readers’ information, amusement or bird cage or all of the above.
If I were trained well enough, I could take my cell phone (the only kind my household has), put the column text on it, then while riding somewhere on a trip, “text” or send the columns to those 24 newspapers. If I were trained…
Telephones amazed me when my grandmother had one of those old wooden, hang-on-the-wall, crank-to-ring-your-party phones that had a dozen neighbors on the same line. It had a separate earpiece hanging in a cradle on the side of the wooden box that held the battery and the “technology” that made voice transmission over phone lines/wires possible. (Now we use microwave dishes atop tall towers across the countryside, as well as space communications satellites to constantly transmit voice and text messages between phones around the world).
There was a crank on the opposite side of my grandmother’s phone box. In order to call someone, you picked up the earpiece, held it to your ear to see if there were voices or a buzz. If there were voices, one of your neighbors, one of perhaps 12 co-participants on this one line, was probably talking to someone.
If not, you could depress the cradle with one hand and take the crank handle in the other hand and “ring” the phone the designated number of rings, denoted as “longs” and “shorts.” A long was two revolutions with the crank handle and a short was one quick turn. For instance, my grandmother’s “ring” was a long and two shorts. Everyone on the party line could hear every ring. They knew who was getting a call. They didn’t necessarily know who was calling. But, gasp!, they could listen (as my grandmother would say) “if’n they were of a mind to.”
HAVING 12 co-participants on one line, known as a party line, was an interesting challenge all day every day. The woman of the house in most parties on the line usually listened for the ringing from this wooden box in hopes she’d have an opportunity to participate in a conversation via this technological marvel. Each member of the party line could conceivably listen and participate, although this extreme would be, ahem, extremely hard to manage.
But, it was not uncommon for one “non-participant” who was listening in, to pipe up and say, “Ann, this is Ethel and I know you can’t hear Cora good (must have been a weak battery), so since I’m between y’all, I’ll lissen and pass on for you-uns.”
“Well, we’re much obliged, Ethel. How’s Thomas’ hand he hurt choppin’ wood a’doin’?”
“Tollible, Cora. He manages to git his chores did, but he grumbles a lot. Hmmph.”
OCCASIONALLY, one of the original two participants in a call might give a loud, throat-clearing grumble and say, “If’n I’da wanted to be part of a conversation with y’all, I’da called y’all. So, please ‘give up’ the line for us.” Click.
“Sorry, Ethel. Maybe now they’s off the line and not being muffled through another set of ears and a thick head, we can hear a little better.”
“Now, where wuz we? Oh, yeah. Thomas does fine as long as I hide that Mason jar ’til all the chores is did.”
“Cora, this is your ma, Ann. I’m still on the line.”
“Okay, Ma. Ethel, I need to talk to Ma about her trip to the doctor. I’ll ring you later.”
“Alright, Cora. Miss Ann, I’m proud your feelin’ better.”
“Thanky, Ethel. Now, Cora where wuz we?”
That might create hard feelings in some quarters…at least until one long and two shorts tingled through the wooden box again.
Cells and texting are so easy and much more private, but not nearly as much fun as 12-household party lines were.
Willis Webb is a retired community newspaper editor-publisher of more than 50 years experience. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.