I walked into the kitchen for a quick cup of morning coffee to find my husband, Dan, ready to leave for our office. Mother, who lived with us,
was at the breakfast nook sharing a light breakfast and the morning paper with Aunt Ethel who was visiting from Birmingham.
On the kitchen radio, popular disc jockey, Al Jernigan played his usual blend of country and western music, told some jokes and reported on weather conditions.
I’d had a restless night; sleep had eluded me because Bob Kishbaugh’s tomcat had roamed the neighborhood all night to see how many more notches it could carve in its scarred and broken tail. Just thinking about him made me irritable.
Just minutes after I’d left for work, Mother and Aunt Ethel lowered their newspapers and listened intently to Al’s radio announcement.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I have an announcement from the telephone company and it’s marked ‘Urgent.’ It says, and I quote,
‘With all the rain the past two weeks, the telephone company is having problems with their phone lines being water-logged. The lines will be drained this morning at eight o’clock. You are asked to take your telephones off their cradles and place the receivers into an empty bucket, sink, or washtub. This way the phone lines can be cleared as the water drains out of your telephone receivers. If you must go to work, you might want to do this before leaving for work so there won’t be water all over the floor when you return home tonight. Thank you for your cooperation.’ There you have it, ladies and gentlemen. Now back to some more music on WELM. This is Al Jernigan.”
Aunt Ethel and Mother stared at each other and then at the telephone on the kitchen wall.
“You go get the tall, green plastic garbage pail in the garage for this telephone,” Mother ordered briskly, “and I’ll get that galvanized tub in the basement for the bedroom phone. Thank God there are only two phones.”
Aunt Ethel quickly brought the garbage pail into the kitchen, set it directly under the wall phone and carefully placed the receiver in the center of the tub. She looked at the clock and realized they had only ten minutes to spare before the draining of the phone lines began.
Mother dragged the bulky galvanized tub up from the basement, not bothering to wipe the dust and cobwebs from it. She was racing against time and would worry about spiders later.
At 8:00 a.m. Mother and Aunt Ethel stood rigidly by their respective phones like sentries, as did nearly everyone else in our tiny community. The spoke only in whispers, not wanting to miss the first sounds of gushing water bursting through their telephone receivers.
Meanwhile, Al Jernigan kept playing his music, telling jokes and repeating the urgent announcement on the air. Alone at the station, he received over 200 phone calls wanting confirmation that the announcement was true. Most followed his instructions verbatim, putting their phones into a container, then leaving home for work for the rest of the day.
At 8:15 a.m., so many phones were busy by being off their hooks that it raised an alarm at the phone company. Informed of Al Jernigan’s announcement, an irate telephone company executive phoned Al and demanded that Al go back on the air immediately.
So at 8:20, Al sheepishly picked up his microphone and asked all his listeners to reach into the buckets and containers and replace the phones on their cradles.
“Folks,” he drawled, desperately trying not to laugh. “I’m sorry. This was an April Fool’s joke. I had no idea that it would shut down the entire phone system. I’m terribly sorry for any inconvenience.”
Mother went into the kitchen where Aunt Ethel was still staring at the radio that rested innocently on the shelf above the breakfast nook. As Mother slid across the leather seat, they began to laugh. Soon they were into near hysterics, realizing they had fallen for something so silly that even a child would have realized it was a joke.
From our office two miles away, I dialed Mother and scoffed, “I hope you and Aunt Ethel didn’t fall for that ridiculous joke that Al Jernigan pulled on the air, did you? Can you believe how gullible some people are?”
Before Mother could answer, Mother and I could hear Dan’s voice bellow from behind me, “Honey, I’m back. What are these galvanized tubs doing here in the office?”
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