Welcome to the Party Line

Two longs and one short. One short and one long.

These were my parent’s phone numbers back in the 1940’s and 50’s. They both lived in rural Wisconsin and were on party lines. Back then several houses would be connected by one phone wire. Each house was given a different ring for their crank phones. When you heard your particular ring you knew to pick up the phone because someone was trying to reach you.

old crank phone

old crank phone

The disadvantage to this system is that everyone on your circuit could listen in on your conversations.

The advantage to this system is that you could listen in on everyone’s conversations!

I love when my Dad tells me the story about his mom (my Grandma) and the party line.

You see, my grandma was a sweet, soft-spoken lady. She was a farmer’s wife living in a house with no running water and no television. She worked hard raising her four children, tending to the garden and taking care of the chickens. She couldn’t drive a car. The one time my Grandpa did try to teach her, things didn’t go so well, so she refused to try again. Therefore, she only made it into town every few weeks when my Grandpa drove her.

My Dad tells me that many times he would walk into the kitchen and there would be Grandma with the phone to her ear. She would be perched on her chair sitting still as a mouse and listening intently. She would shoot my Dad the “look” and put her finger to her lips to ensure his silence. My Dad knew the drill and would mosey on his way.

I had never heard about this until she passed away some years back. The thought of my dear old Grandma Freda eavesdropping just puts me in stitches. The grandma I remember was always full of news. She would update us on everyone in the family and tell us the goings on in the town. She wasn’t a gossip…just an informer of all the important tidbits!

I think back to that woman who was around the age I am now, listening in on the party line. In all likelihood I may have very well done the same thing.

In a way, I do listen in on the party line. In a way, we all listen in on the party line.

I think it’s human nature to want to know what other people are doing and how they are. It’s interesting to see how other people live. It’s nice to have connections with others and to learn from other people’s experiences.

If this wasn’t true then Facebook, Twitter and blogging wouldn’t be so popular.

Our whole life is submerged into one big party line. The only difference nowadays is you can hit a “like” button or leave a comment and let the person know you’ve been by to catch up on all the juicy news! There is no need to sit in silence or shush the children!

Grandma Freda in 1942 with two of her children. My dad is the baby on her lap.

Grandma Freda in 1942 with two of her children. My dad is the baby on her lap.

Can I Call You Back

There is a strange phenomenon that happens every time I get on the phone. My children can be playing on another level of the house, outside or down the block like perfect, sweet angels but the moment I make a phone call or receive one they receive what can only be described as a supernatural alert signal that they must obey to.

They automatically NEED SOMETHING NOW!! They also turn into monsters that begin doing things that would never occur had I been sitting idly, twiddling my thumbs with nothing to do.

First comes the requests for water and food to stave off the dehydration and hunger that comes from hearing the phone ring. Next comes the racing through the house and games of tag follow filling the air with shrieks and loud laughing. Toys start getting thrown at one another and then the toys get thrown into the air like confetti. Complete mayhem breaks out.

I begin by trying to simply mouth the words, “STOP!”

This never works and I don’t know why I even try to use this tactic anymore.

Next, I bring out “CRAZY EYES.” I’ve explained “crazy eyes” to my kids. It’s the concept that if you see mommy’s eyes bug out of her head , eyebrows raise to the top of her forehead and her mouth pierce into a small “o” it’s time to stop whatever you are doing. This could be the point where mommy loses all touch with reality and begins screaming like a crazy lunatic and banging her head against the wall. This has not happened to date, but like I explained to my kids it is the next logical step after “crazy eyes” so do not test it.

Crazy Eyesusually works when we are in public. “Crazy Eyes” makes them slightly pause but continue on their way when I am on the phone. They know I am at the mercy of this thing attached to my head and am trying dearly to hear every word from the nurse on how to treat a rash and would never go completely lunatic at this point.

Depending on who is on the other end of the line I let them listen for a few minutes. Perhaps the dentist receptionist calling to confirm our appointment will take pity on me. Give me some sympathy. Perhaps she has grown children and is really missing those younger years. Perhaps she will offer to come over and pick up these kids and take them to the park for a few hours so I can get some much needed peace and quiet. This has never happened.

I usually just resort to the hiding. I make a break when the kids aren’t looking and go find a closet to hide in or go outside. A long conversation usually requires me seeking several different hiding spots during the course of the chatting either because a neighbor begins mowing outside or I have been found by one of the children during their stake out to find the source to end their dehydration and hunger.

During the hiding, in order to focus on the person who is talking I have to block out the fear and nervousness in my stomach knowing that there is a great likelihood I could be calling a home improvement specialist as soon as I hang up with my current call.

Thankfully for their sakes this has never happened and another strange phenomenon happens the moment I hang up the phone. Things go back to a somewhat serene tranquility. There are no more shrieks, no more blocks flying through the house, everyone is calmly walking and no one is thirsty or hungry.

Was the circus I just experienced just my imagination or do the children realize I’m no longer bonded to the anchor on my ear unable to expel real wrath. Perhaps a little of both; everything seems louder when you’re on the phone and perhaps the requests are always there but I’m not usually inconvenienced by them. Toys usually do fly through the air at our house on a regular basis but it gets stopped immediately.

Needless to say, the kids get a talking to and they solemnly swear it will never happen again….until their super sensory radar goes off again, alerting them to a phone call requesting them to obey the law of all children to drive their moms completely crazy while talking on the phone.

This is a reenactment of how a typical phone conversation is in our house. Obviously no one has ever thought to take a picture when this is actually happening! I told the kids to act how they normally do when I’m on the phone…they played their roles well!