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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: Telephone (07/17/08)

TITLE: The Amazing Neighborhood Operator
By Judy Watters


The cell phone is an amazing invention. My teenagers are just a text message away. Waiting on dinner for teens and spouse is a thing of the past. If the problem is fighting backed up traffic or that the kids left school late, Mom knows in plenty of time to make the adjustments to cooking times. You can even text message several people at the same time so everyone knows dinner will be late. Amazing!

When I was little, back on the farm in Pennsylvania, the phone was black and quite large. The receiver handle was huge and sat on an even larger cradle that had a clicker on the right side. The clicker needed to be pushed in to hear the dial tone, which we called the "okay signal."

We had twenty-one families on our party line so the clicker was of great importance. When we lifted the receiver, we could see if anyone was on it before we clicked in to make a call. If two people were in conversation, they couldn't hear another receiver being picked up, so they never knew if anyone was "rubbering in" on their call. Therefore, everyone knew everyone's business.

Especially Pearl. Pearl was an old maid who lived with her parents. It seemed as though Pearl lived day and night for the phone. When she got a call, she would try to stay on as long as possible. She very rarely left the house because she might get a phone call or she might miss out on some juicy gossip. Pearl knew if she left her mother to tend to the phone, her mother wouldn't remember any of the gossip by the time Pearl got home.

At the other extreme, our father was very protective of the phone. He never wanted us kids to call friends when we got home from school. He said the phone was only to be used for emergencies. And so the phone became a great enigma, as well as an attractive enticement for us. Each family's phone had a certain ring pattern. Ours was one long ring and three short. Whenever our special number would ring, we would race to answer it. Sometimes there were knock down fights between my brother and me for the prize of answering the phone.

One Saturday, the neighborhood kids made calls all around to each other to plan another ice skating get-together at the Patterson's pond. (Saturday calls were allowed as long as they were short!) Our parents knew where we were going and the approximate time that we would get home. What they didn't know was that the Patterson's weren't home. They had left in a hurry when they got a call that the grandfather had been taken to the hospital. The Patterson kids didn't have time to call anyone before they left.

So Pearl, having heard all the neighborhood plans and the need for the rush to the hospital, took it upon herself to be the one to solve the problem. She called our father and told him where the Patterson's had gone and that he should go to the pond to chaperone and make sure no one fell in through the thinner ice around the overflow.

When the twenty or so kids from the 5-mile radius of our neighborhood converged on the pond, we thought it was strange that there were no lights on in the house and that the Patterson kids didn't come out. We built our fire on the side of the pond anyway, put on our skates, and were playing fox and geese on the ice when we saw the headlights of a car winding its way through the tree-lined road. We thought it was the Patterson's, but instead it was Mom and Daddy. The Patterson's were always available if we had an emergency but never came to the pond with us. But Mom and Daddy sat by the fire and watched us skate. We all had a great time. Daddy said that we were very fortunate to have such a neighborhood telephone operator who cared for all the kids.

Today, with cell phones, there is no need for "neighborhood operators." People are not so apt to look out for other people's children. How far we have come from that old neighborhood feeling of caring for each other. Maybe we can blame the cell phone.

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Member Comments
Member Date
Rhonda Clark07/25/08
The memories are great. Took me back to the days of partylines. We only had 2, maybe 3, families tied together.

Your story was nice, but I was confused about your point. I couldn't tell if you were pro cell phones, or pro partylines. You showed both sides without really taking a stance. Your reader wants to know where you stand.

Thanks for the trip down memory lane.
Fiona Dorothy Stevenson07/25/08
I too come from a party line era, and enjoyed your story. I share your ambivalence about cell phones, although I truly cannot blame them for the current lack of neighbourly care - that was already well-advanced before the cell phone came into being! God less you.
Yvonne Blake 07/26/08
*smile* I actually remember having to listen for different rings when I was younger. Today kids listen for their own ring tone. How things have changed.

Thank you for the glimpse into a time, not too long ago, but far enough that it is being forgotten.

I wasn't sure if you were irritated with Pearl or glad.

Thank you for writing this.