Saturday, January 27, 2007

Just Speak Into the Cheese

This nostalgia turn keeps wandering off in different directions. Today brought comments about earlier phone systems. I wish I could remember more about the phones when I was a kidlet but I really don't. The earliest model of phone I remember was one my grandparents used when they were working at a Forest Service lookout on Pratt Mountain, near Garberville, California. This was in 1948. I was 9 years old that summer and got to spend a month with Mac and Mertie on the mountaintop. Every morning and every evening, Mac had to call down to the Forest Service station at the foot of the mountain, both to pass on readings from weather instruments and as a safety check.

The phone fascinated me, that wooden box high above me on the wall. There was a funnel-shaped mouthpiece in front that could be tilted to adjust for the height of the speaker. The earpiece hung in its cradle on the left side and the handle you had to crank to ring out was on the right. It occurs to me now, that arrangement must have been aggravating for lefties.

The phone we used at home wasn't nearly as exotic, just that plain old black model, like the one pictured above, that everyone had. It's the party line I really remember. And all the stories you hear about party lines are, I'm sure, quite true. We were taught early to be circumspect on the phone because you never knew when someone was listening. Not always an easy thing to remember when in the heat of an interesting conversation.

At the end of a phone call, my sister and I would wait until the person we were speaking to had hung up and then we'd cheerfully announce, "Okay, everyone. We're done now. You can hang up!" On a good day, we'd hear click, click, click all the way down the line. When Mom found out, she made us quit. Darn.

In the early '80s, my sister lived where she was on one of the few remaining party lines in the area. This wasn't such an inconvenience until she got her brand new answering machine -- and then couldn't use it. If I recall correctly, the problem had to do with the ring. Each person on the line had their own distinctive ring so, for instance, one long ring would be for phone A and two short rings would be for phone B, and so on. Trouble was, the answering machine couldn't make the distinction and would accept any call that came in on that line, no matter who was supposed to get it.

The phone I considered the most fun, though, was one I took to the bar where I worked. It looked like a big cheeseburger. I lived for the moments when a call came in for a customer and I could hand over the phone and say, "Just speak into the cheese."


John Bailey said...

I've always wanted a Mickey Mouse phone so's I could tell it to Mickey. Wouldn't want one now but if I'd had one way back when I might have ended up hating the telephone less... :-)

Anonymous said...

Once upon a million years ago... I had a Mickey Mouse phone... my mother purhased it so that her first and second born grandchildren could call her. The first born now walks around with a cell phone glued to his head... well, maybe not glued exactly.

Perhaps I should do likewise so that my grandchildren can call?

bb said...

I also wanted a Mickey phone.

The most fun I had was the year I was able to buy the phone you could see it's innards. Hated it when that went belly up.

(the side of my computer you can look inside)