The other day Sooby and I were picking up toys when I took a moment to contemplate the Fisher-Price Chatter Phone. "This is what phones used to look like when I was a little girl," I told her.
"You mean--they had eyes?" she asked.
"Well, no, but they had a receiver and a dial like this," I explained.
The silence and puzzled look told me that I had crossed into unfamiliar territory. "Why should she know these words?" I asked myself. After all, she was born into a world where phones are either portable with a digital push pad or the kind you keep in your pocket until it bleats out the theme from The Addams Family.
The telephone I grew up with in the '50s and '60s was a heavy black weapon you could easily stun a burglar with. In my earliest memories of it, we would pick up the receiver and wait for the operator to say, "Number, please?" For some reason, my mother dubbed this voice "Central." When childlike curiosity (or just plain orneriness) prompted me to break house rules and mess with the phone, Mom would issue a stern warning. "You better watch out," she said. "Central's gonna get you."
Years later, I came to realize that Central was like the mysterious "Sarah," belle of the Mayberry switchboard. Sarah was the one who obligingly connected Andy to Aunt Bee so he could ask her what was for supper or Barney to Gomer or Guber down at the garage.
Unwieldy as it was, our phone (and even Andy's old-fashioned desk model) was nothing compared to the one my Aunt Norma had down on the farm. Mounted cumbersomely on the wall, it was a big brown monstrosity that required two hands to operate. You held the earpiece in your left hand and with your right you turned a crank that caused a similar phone to ring in Cousin Bertie's house across the road. You waited for it to ring back and then shouted into the stationary mouthpiece to ask Bertie if you could borrow a cup of sugar.
A little wistfully, I thought about all the phone designs that Sooby would see only in history books or at farm auctions. She must imagine a party line as something with presents and cupcakes. She has never seen a phone booth. For her, I guess Clark Kent ducks behind an ATM to change his clothes.
Unwilling to give up this teachable moment altogether, I switched gears. "You know, the telephone was invented by a man named Alexander Graham Bell," I told her.
"You mean--like graham cracker?" she asked. I started to correct her, then caught myself. "Yes," I said. "Exactly."
Our toy pick-up complete, we headed down to the kitchen, where I set a plate of graham crackers between us and mixed up two cups of chocolate milk. I savored the moment along with the flavors. Sooby's world is very different from the one I grew up in, but thank goodness some staples of childhood never change.