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I used to dial a phone, and it would ring.

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Growing up, we had a rotary dial phone. It was big and black and attached to the wall in the kitchen. In fact, my dad had built a special cubby for it in the wall, with a place for phone books on the shelf underneath.

(stock photo by gogoroko)

It had a really long cord.

A REALLY long cord.

We knew exactly how long it was and where we could stand so that Mom couldn’t swat us when we were being naughty when she was on the phone. That was the perfect time to be naughty. She had to maintain her composure or the person on the other end could see her true colors. Sometimes, we irked her on purpose when the phone rang so that we could hear the difference in her voice go from the ominous “YOU KIDS BETTER KNOCK IT OFF, OR I’LL…” and immediately transform into her sweet, “Hello?” when she answered, totally pretending that utter chaos had not just broken out in her kitchen.

(From this point forward, no one will feel sorry for me when my own daughter acts up, paybacks being what they are these days.)

And, if she didn’t answer, it would just ring and ring. We didn’t have an answering machine until much later, and I’m the one who set it up for them. (I was also the one who programmed the VCR. Ours was one of the only houses who had a working clock. There were no flashing 12:00’s when I was on duty.)

I have memories of my mom walking around the kitchen with the receiver tucked under her chin. (Did you know phones actually had two PARTS. For realz, yo.) She’d chat while she did chores, masterfully weaving in and out, lifting the cord over the kitchen table or around the corner to the laundry room as she talked and worked. If people tried to call when she was on the phone, they would get this odd beeping noise. My daughter has never heard it. I think it was called a busy signal.

And, when the phone rang, you had no idea who it was until you answered it. My dad was notorious for getting the phone and then grilling the person on the other end if the call wasn’t for him. He wouldn’t hand it over until they’d answered a series of questions. All my friends knew my middle name, because if they didn’t, they were out of luck. (It’s Elizabeth, by the way. Now, you can talk to me whenever you like!)

Things have changed. In 1999, I got my first cell phone for emergency purposes. Not only could I make emergency calls from the road, but it was large enough to double as a weapon. My phones eventually got smaller and smarter, and now what I carry with me everywhere I go is more of a computer than a phone. I don’t remember the last time I used a real phone book. The smarter your phone, the less you need a phone book. Funny how that works.

Imagine my delight when setting the ringtone on my Droid to discover that they have “Old Phone” as an option. When I was testing it out, my 5yr old asked me what that sound was. She’d never such melodious bells. My husband joked that it was the 80s calling. I had the urge to shake my cane at the whippersnappers on our lawn. Have you seen my cane? It’s probably over by the record player. She didn’t know why we were laughing.

So, I explained that it’s what phones used to sound like. We then talked about how they used to be attached to walls and had really long cords. She almost didn’t believe me. It was the silliest thing she’d heard!

Then, my phone rang and she got a mischievous look in her eye and the urge to be naughty.

It’s good to see some things haven’t changed at all…

Author: JoAnn

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  • comment avatar Amber Johnson May 11, 2011

    Ahhhh, it’s so funny how much technology has changed! I tried to explain record players, cassette players and 8-Tracks to my kids and they looked at me dumbfounded like I was born in the Dark Ages. 🙂

  • comment avatar JoAnn May 11, 2011

    Claire still doesn’t understand “live TV” or a show that you can’t pause or can’t watch whenever you want. When we were at the inlaws house and were watching a TV show “live,” at each commercial break, she’d say, “Is it over!?” Ha!

  • comment avatar DeniseEPL May 11, 2011

    The corded phone conversation just came up this morning in the Apple store, as my daughter walked up to an iPad and started using it with ease. I miss corded phones, the one huge bonus (other than using the cord as a deterrent for misbehaving kids) is you could never lose them in a couch cushion or leave them in a random place, like the laundry room shelf!

  • comment avatar JoAnn May 11, 2011

    This is true, Denise! How funny. 🙂

  • comment avatar Susan May 11, 2011

    JoAnn- What a great post. It brought me right down memory lane. We too, knew how long that cord was and had a safe zone. I also remember talking on the phone and wrapping the cord around my fingers and toes. I keep trying to tell my daughters that when I grew up, things were so modern compared to MY parents. We had CDs, cordless phones, and other technology in the modern world of the 70’s & 80’s. Now, all of that stuff is extinct in our new modern world.

  • comment avatar JoAnn May 11, 2011

    My mom would tell us stories of the “party line” they had on the telephone, and the black-and-white TV, when they actually GOT a TV at ALL. It’s amazing how times have changed.

    p.s. I used to wrap the cord around my fingers and toes, too!!

  • comment avatar Lori Lavender Luz May 11, 2011

    Now *I’m* guilty of the mom-voice change. The kids busted me the other day.

    You know, we are always losing our house phones. Someone ought to invent a way to keep them in one place so you always know where one is.

    Your husband is funny!

  • comment avatar Gretchen White May 11, 2011

    JoAnn, your post made me laugh and brought back many familiar memories.

    When we visit my parents, one of the first things my kids do is head to the old toy box. They drag out my late-grandma’s olive green rotary phone and have a blast dialing numbers. It makes that satisfying soft clickclickclick as the dial spins. Sigh. I’ve actually thought about stashing it in my suitcase, bringing it home, and using it! How novel!

  • comment avatar JoAnn May 11, 2011

    Lori, I have an idea! We could attach the main part of the phone to the wall! …in a central location, like the kitchen! …and we could attach the part you talk into and hear from to a long cord! 😉

  • comment avatar JoAnn May 11, 2011

    Gretchen, I remember that soft clickclickclick noise! Menus would be kinda hard to navigate, but lots of places have gone to the voice activated menu options. You can just as easily shout, “CUSTOMER SERVICE REPRESENTATIVE” over and over into a rotary dial phone… 😉

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