I heard a theatre teacher talking about using a rotary telephone in a period piece workshop. The scene required a young woman to dial a telephone. She hesitated and looked a little awkward—she didn’t know how to use a rotary dial telephone.
“Just take your finger, put it in the hole, and turn it to the right all the way until it stops,” instructed an older participant.
The young woman cautiously maneuvered the phone and the scene was flawless.
There are those who read this who remember quite well dialing the telephone. The phone was the nucleus in the home. Ours sat in the hallway on a bureau and it was heavy. All conversations were held in that one small space, maybe 5 x 7. And everyone could hear the phone conversation. I can still remember my phone number after 50 years, 896-3672.
I dialed 0 for the operator when you wanted to make a long distance call.
“Operator. What number are you calling?”
The caller then proceeded to give the city, state, and the area code plus the phone number. The operator made the call. If there was no answer, then she came back on the line to tell you there was no answer.
When I was around ten, wall phones became the thing. We had one installed in our hallway—a different one, much bigger than the other one in the other house. All the bedrooms opened into the hallway.
We had a chair against the wall and a tiny table that sat under the phone with the phone book on top, a drawer held pencil and paper. Wall phones had unusually long cords. I could walk all the way down the hall, almost to our dining room and kitchen. Sometimes I would pace back and forth, up and down the hall, as I talked on the phone.
When I wanted privacy, I walked into my bedroom—right next to the wall phone—and closed the door, catching the cord in the door frame. I would pull as much of the cord into the room as I could. Then, I could lay on my bed or walk around my room.
My brother pulled the phone into his room next to mine so he could talk to girls. He was older. I was not into boys at that time. I spent long hours talking to my girlfriends about Barbies, baby dolls, homework, and school.
Fights over who got to use the phone were quite common. When an important call was expected, there would be a race to the phone—it became a competition to see who could answer it first. If bad news was expected, it wasn’t uncommon to sit by the phone waiting to answer it on the first ring.
When we wanted to block a caller, (or if you wanted to take a nap) we took the phone off the receiver.
When we were traveling out of town and wanted to let our Mother know we had arrived, we would work out a code call so I didn’t have to pay for a long distance call. I could call from any pay phone. “Ask for Roger,” my mother said. No Roger lived at our house.
I would give the operator our phone number and wait for my mother’s voice.
“May I speak to Roger, please?” I would say.
“I’m sorry. You must have the wrong number,” my mother would answer. “There is no Roger at this number.”
Mother would know I had arrived safe and sound.
In 1971, I got a new number. I still remember that number too, 896-3241.
It had belonged to my Grandma. After she died, we moved into her house. So, we kept her number for me and my brother—a private line for the teens. And we each got a phone in our room.
Our daddy had a business and sometimes worked from home at the kitchen table after supper. He made and received business phone calls that were important to the sales in his business. He didn’t want teenagers hogging the phone line.
He used to get upset when my prankster brother would answer the phone in the kitchen, “Joe’s pool hall,” and laugh when the caller would hang up.
A lot of houses had a phone cubby built into the wall where the phone rested. It was usually in a hallway in the center of the house.
After moving into my new bedroom, my mother got me a yellow trimline princess phone. I spent long hours laying on my bed talking to my best friend Tami.
The age of cell phones changed the landscape of communications—from walking around our house while talking on the phone to no long distance calls, and even to video calls.
As much as smartphones are convenient, I miss the old days.
I wonder what Superman does without a phone booth for changing?
To learn how to use a rotary dial telephone click here.