The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 9, 2000


Telephones Everywhere

My son called me on the telephone the other day, and when I asked him where he was, he replied, "We're on the plane". On the plane! That really boggles my mind. I can remember when the DC-3's first started flying into New Hampshire, and my aunt used to go out her kitchen door and wave at them.

We didn't even have a phone of our own in my early childhood. People told you when and where they were going to call you and you went next door to a neighbor's house or down the street to my grandmother's phone to receive the call. Calls were scheduled. People had party lines, and we really did listen in to their conversations. You could tell which party the call was for by the number of rings. Single ring or double ring. You picked up the phone and waited for the operator to say "Number please." Then you told her the number. 1197W, 154M, my grandparents in New Hampshire were 2158, and you first had to ask for long distance, and then tell the long distance operator the number. When I first moved to Boston, my number was Commonwealth 6-7186, and you had to dial the whole thing yourself.

When we were kids, my younger brother and I used to try to make our own phones, with two tin cans and a long piece of string. Some people actually got that contraption to work, but we never did. I think we missed the part about keeping the string tight. It really didn't matter, because we were shouting so loudly that everyone could hear us even without a tin can. Speaking of those tin cans, how many of you can remember stomping down on them so that they wrapped around your shoes, and you could pretend you were wearing high-heeled cowboy boots?

Back in the old days of my youth, we had one phone, one bathroom, no car (although in my mid-teens we did have one car, but only my father and stepmother could drive it) and only one TV. We did have a couple of radios. We were no different from everyone else. Just think of the sharing, taking turns, and forced cooperation we lived with that rarely exists today. The biggest phone decision that I can remember is whether or not to get a "Princess phone," and if so, what color. We thought Dick Tracey's wrist telephone was really science fiction.

Extension phones are the first new convenient phones I can remember. You could call from one room and someone else could either participate or eavesdrop from another. Imagine. . .a three-way conversation! Shades of the party line all over again. I thought remotes were something else. A true luxury, to be able to talk and chase after the kids at the same time.

Today we have car phones, e-mail, cell phones, computer phones and I don't know what all. I couldn't believe it the first time someone actually plugged in to our accessory plug and called his wife from our sailboat. You only have to come to Town Meeting to know that you can't get away from the telephone. People get and make calls from everywhere. The phone can fax, take messages, forward your call almost any place on earth, and even turn on the coffee. Is this really good? What happened to our peace and quiet and scheduled phone calls? We are so rushed and so "in the present" today. There is no place to hide anymore. And while I'm running on like this, if you think cell towers are ugly, what do you think our grandparents thought about telephone poles and all those wires.

I admit it; we are just as consumed by this as everyone else. We have a regular phone, three extensions, a portable phone, and a cell phone, which we can plug in to our car or boat, or just stand there, anywhere, and use it. I have even taken calls from the bathtub. Who's in control here? Certainly not me. Not even a power failure can keep us from our beloved phone calls. We seem to have grown a whole new body part on our ears. Today my son just picks up his cell phone and says, "Mom," and my phone rings. Think about how that compares to those famous words: "Watson, come here, I need you." Sure the telephone saves time, and they say that time is money, but a nervous breakdown costs money too.

2000 The Carlisle Mosquito