Saturday, April 9, 2011

Ring Out the Old, Ring In the New

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.          



  1. When my in-laws passed away, the only thing my son wanted from their house was their black phone with the rotary dial.

  2. Isn't it crazy? Things have moved along so fast that our grand kids can't relate to the phones we had as kids! And here you are on a computer writing a blog! Wow, such a contrast.

  3. Thanks for the wonderful memories! I can remember getting in trouble for interrupting calls on "the party line" we had when I was very young. My aunt and uncle had one of those old phones you talk about -- it hung on their wall right next to the ugly black wall phone that really worked! Us kids had so much fun with that old phone....

  4. I was recently talking to one of my daughters about the days of party lines and she thought I was kidding. "You're not THAT old, Mom," she swore.

    Thanks for linking up to GRAND Social!