Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: On the Telephone (11/18/10)
TITLE: The Party Line
By Charlotte Leonard
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I grew up in a two story farmhouse set smack dab in the center of our 80 acres. Dad always said that the old timers built them that way so that they could stand in the door yard, turn a full circle and say, “That's my land.” Their pride of ownership was small consolation to me walking home through waist deep snow.
Once Christmas and all of the Holiday doings were over the days dragged on endlessly. Back in the '50's every bodies mother was a “stay at home Mom” and there weren't many opportunities to socialize. Once a month was “Missionary Circle” and, of course, there was church on Sunday, but that still left huge chunks of time to fill. Dad used to say that winter made folks “Shack Nasty”.
So, you can imagine the pure joy and excitement that came from the news that our little neighborhood was getting telephone service. It was the main topic of conversation and the expectation grew to a fever pitch. I was home with a sore throat when the telephone technician arrived so I got to experience first hand the wonders of modern communication.
Our first telephone was a beaut! Shiny black with a huge dial, the numbers were printed in black on a white background, the straight wall cord had to have been 5 feet long, the technician showed mom how she could take the phone over to the window so she could talk and look out at the same time. We chose the desk style, it seemed more modern than the wall unit. For once my Mother had no words, it was almost too much for her to take in. She just nodded and smiled and dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief.
He explained how were on a “party line”, when the phone rang three long rings it was for us. There were 8 other families in the party and their rings were all combinations of long and short bursts. At first it sounded extremely complicated and we wondered if we would ever know when we were getting a call, but we mastered the technique in record time and soon discovered there were also some “hidden benefits”.
When we heard “two shorts and a long” we knew the call was for the Keller's; “three shorts” the Smith's, and so on. One had only to wait a minute or two, then pick up the receiver. When we heard conversation on the line we pressed the disconnect bar and it sounded like the phone had been hung up, so the people on the line could continue their conversation...and we could listen in. It was great fun, and quite informative I might add. Our rural community was the first I know of to have wiretapping and social networking, decades before Watergate and Facebook.
No one ever felt guilty about listening in on phone calls because the practice was universal. The extent became apparent when a sick neighbor got a casserole from every single family and she had only mentioned having the flu to her sister in North Dakota.
Because we knew our conversations weren't private we began to choose our words carefully, making sure nothing we said would offend or be hurtful. You could say that we only spoke “Life” over our party line. If we did have occasion to talk about a neighbor it was always in a complimentary way, they just might be listening in. Soon all of this positive energy spilled over into other areas of our lives and, I have to say, we all became better people because of it. Do I think the Lord approved? Absolutely not, but He is able to make things work out for our benefit...and it did make the winters seem shorter.
Reminiscing about our party line, and being aware of “The Great Crowd of Witnesses” helps me to keep a close watch over my mouth. And that is a very good thing indeed.
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