I loved Lily Tomlin's character, Ernestine, the Telephone Operator, a regular on Laugh In of the late sixties and early seventies. If you are unfortunate and have not seen Lily perform Ernestine, Or click this link: here It is a classic. Anyway, Jan's mention of her family's first phone made me think of Ernestine and our family's first.
We had that Hang-On-the-Hall-Wall-Phone as our first phone. It's range was three feet - the length of the cord. Poor dad finally gave in to the whining of his four girls (two of whom were teenagers) and extended our roaming to six feet. We could now go into the bedroom closest to the phone (thank goodness in was me and my sister's bedroom) and plop down on the bed and talk in private.
Well, sorta private. Our phone was a "party line". And it wasn't a "partee" line. A party line meant we shared a phone line with two other families. Let me count: our family - seven; my maternal uncle's family - four; the other family - five. So all told, we had one phone line for 16 people. ONE PHONE LINE FOR 16 PEOPLE. (And people say we didn't have any social media way back when.) I don't think Sprint, or Horizon, or even ATT could offer that kind of plan today. Especially not for the peanuts dad paid. But what pre-teen, tweenie, or teen would tolerate sharing a phone with 15 other people now. OMG!
Ma Bell created a special ring-a-dingy for each of the three families. No one knew when the phone would ring. Vigilance was paramount: listen for the magical ringy-dingy. With the first strident sound (no choices for ring-tones), all within earshot stopped dead in their tracks, intently listening. (Kinda like that old commercial, "when E.F. Hutton talks, people listen".) When we didn't hear our ring, we'd all move again. If it was our ring, everybody ran. I'm sure the other families did the same.
Our ring was three short. My mom's brother's family was a long-short-long-ringy-dingy. My uncle's wife was really nosey; she lived to gossip... and she was a uni-brow. They lived a stone's throw from our house. Sometimes, when we answered our ring, we knew she was listening. We could hear the background noise: unmistakably our cousins. Dad told us not to be rude, just politely ask, "Whoever is listening in, please hang up." We obliged but, I'm sure she could hear our teeth grinding.
The shared phone line also meant that sometimes we had to wait to make a phone call. This was worse than the remoteless Admiral TV. We'd walk to the phone, pick it up gently, listen, and someone from the other family was talking. Put it down gently. Sit down. Get up. Pick up. Listen. Put down. Repeat. If "the other family" was on the line too long, we'd not so gently pick up and put down the phone. And, sometimes we'd add a very audible, "Huff", "Puff", or "Harumph". Finally, we'd pick up the phone and hear the buzz of an open line. Phew!
Lotsa times, when mom or dad wanted to make a call, they'd appoint a phone monitor. My two younger sisters l-o-v-e-d this job; my older sister and I hated it. We'd hide. Or, ignore. The Teenager Ignore.
Now, with the great (think Tony the Tiger G-R-E-A-T!) electronic revolution, my dad, who still lives in our family home, has two non-shared, one portable, land-line phones, and a cell phone. I don't know why, but reception on his non-portable land line is full of static. He sounds like he's talking from the bottom of a well. (He'd never be able to hear our aunt if she were listening. But she's deceased now so...) And, no, it's not the same phone we had sixty years ago. Though that one might be better. It always got crystal- clear reception.
And his cell phone. Ma Bell, help us. I don't know how many butt-calls my sisters and brother have received from dad. I know I've gotten plenty. Ya know, when you scream, "Hello! Hello! Hello!" Then realize we're talking to someone's ass. Usually with dad, we hear the buzzes, bells and whistles, and tinkles - background noise of the casino, and know it's his butt.
And, of course, there's always the obligatory, "Can you hear me now?", yelled into the phone. And the, "I thought I was still talkin' to you," when we've unknowingly lost the connection. And, none of us pay "peanuts" for this incredible progress and wonderful inventions.
I personally think Ernestine needs to snort-snort and make a ringy-dingy-call to her boyfriend, Vito, the telephone repairman. No, we need to hire him and Ernestine to man the phones. At least we'd get a laugh outta it.
Hello, Miss Althea, are you there? Have a great day.