Tuesday, January 05, 2010
A Phone From My Teens
Yup. This is what we had. It was actually fairly new-fangled, at the time, as it was made of plastic, rather than the older, heavier, bakelite. Phones were available in colours, but not at our house. One friend had a beige one.
Our phone had its own little shelf, next to the front door, with another shelf underneath for the phone book. I lived in a small town, to the phone book was about half an inch thick. All the phones in Chemainus had the same prefix.
Anyway, back to the basics. The thing was hard-wired to the wall. A huge innovation was the longer, coiled cord between the handset and the base. This permitted one to move more than three feet from that little shelf by the drafty front door.
I suppose I must say that it was actually the only phone in the house. Now, I did have a friend (who my parents considered "spoiled") who had an extension phone in her bedroom. Please notice that I said "extension phone." Not a separate line. One's illusion of privacy could be spoiled by the "click" one heard when her mom picked up the other phone. Actually, most families had but one phone. It was usually in a public part of the house, such as the kitchen or dining room.
There were rules. Kids were not allowed to talk too long. If one was on the phone too long, one's mother could very easily open the living room door and say, "For Heaven's sake, Veronica, get off the phone! You've been on there for 15 minutes!" There was no "call waiting." If somebody tried to call your house while you were on the phone, they got a busy signal and you got no indication that somebody was trying to call. The first time somebody called one's dad and said, "I tried to call you last night, John, to set up a tee time, but your line was busy," one could lose one's phone privileges for a week. There was also no Caller ID. The only way to find out who was calling was to actually, physically, pick up the phone. And people usually did. If one didn't, it would ring incessantly until the caller hung up. And besides...it could be a date for the school dance...(Hey! A girl could dream).
Long-distance calls were very expensive (charged by the minute--at variable rates, depending on the distance) and only indulged in as a rare treat, or in times of emergency. One might, for instance, call one's family in England at Christmas, after arranging it by mail, in advance, to make sure everyone would be home. Taking into account the time difference. Everyone would shout "I love you!" and "Nice talking to you!" and "Happy Christmas!" loudly enough to be heard by the neighbours on either side.
One paid a flat rate for service, which covered all local calls. Long distance calls were extra, and there were no such things as "plans," or Directory Assistance. If one needed to find a number, one looked it up in the phone book. There was no "911." If there was an emergency, one dialed the appropriate agency. Emergency numbers were printed on the inside front cover of the phone book. There were blank lines to add one's doctor, vet, etc. There were no "800" numbers. Long distance was long distance. There were no areas of shaky coverage--because there were wires. Everywhere.
What brought on this particular reminiscence is the fact that I just glanced at my new cell phone, with its keyboard and digital stuff and camera and downloadable this and that, and noticed that I needed to plug it into the charger for a bit...
...and I realized that, if somebody had shown me this phone back then, I would have had no earthly idea what it was.