Friday, July 10, 2015

Fun Times on the Party Line


Thanks to the invention of the cell phone, almost everyone, from young children to senior citizens, now has a private phone line. It wasn’t always like that. Too bad cell phones weren’t around when I was in high school. Cell phones would have made my friends and me very happy and kept people from getting annoyed with us.

Until the early 1960s, we had to share a line with four other telephone customers. One of them was the elementary school; another was a family who lived near the school. I think the third customer might have been an organization that didn’t have anyone working there on a daily basis. I have no idea as to who the fourth party was. Apparently, those people didn’t use the phone much.

When I was a junior in high school, I would come home from school, drag the phone into the hall closet, and call my best friend who went to a different school. Yeah, I confess that sometimes we tied up the line for well over an hour. Or more.

The grandmother of the family living near the school frequently interrupted our conversations, asking us to get off the line because she had to “make an important phone call.” Grandma was polite about it, and so were we. We always hung up so she could use the line.

Her grandson, whom I’ll call “Jack,” was a different story.

One afternoon, Kate and I must have been discussing some really interesting teen gossip. I never heard the click that indicated someone was checking the line. Then again, maybe Jack liked eavesdropping, just in case we mentioned someone he knew.

After putting up with us for what probably seemed like hours to him (but really wasn’t) he broke into our conversation, yelling, “Get off the phone. You two are on the phone twenty-four hours a day. Why don’t you move in with each other?”
I was stunned by his outburst, so I had no words. Kate started arguing with him. I don’t remember what she told him, but I’m sure it was something I wouldn’t repeat here. Anyway, we did get off the phone. And I think I stayed off the party line for a while—maybe even for the rest of the day.