Mom and the Telephones

Just thinking…..


The first telephone I remember us having was a big wooden box on the wall in the kitchen. There was a part that stuck out of the front where you talked, a part that you put up to your ear to hear, and then a crank on the right hand side. It was a party line phone, meaning that several families up and down the road could pick up the hearing part and know all your business. Each family had a distinctive ring pattern of long or short rings. So if the Millers had a pattern of one long and two shorts, and we heard that pattern, we could lift up the hearing part, try not breathe loudly into the mouth part, and hear all the gossip. Mom didn’t let us do that. She was busy with all of us kids, the gardens, the chickens and all the other parts of a working farm, and there was no time to spend in chit chat  and eavesdropping on the phone. It was there for emergencies and information only…. and long distance calls were rare, requiring the help of the operator.

The signal for an emergency was a LONG long ring: one that just kept going and going. One time, Mom had taken me into town for my flute lesson. On the way home, she stopped at our friends, the Joneses. Mrs. Jones came running out of the back door, flapping her apron. “Go home! Go home!” she shouted. “Your house is on fire!” Mom turned the car around and threw gravel driving fast toward our house. She kept saying, “Do you see any smoke?”

When we reached our farm house, neighbors were still there, but the fire was out. The chimney had caught on fire. Dad had put the younger kids into the truck and drove it out into the corn field, warning them to stay put. Then he ran back, and cranked up the party line. As neighbors picked up on the emergency ring, he told them to get to Newquist’s…. house on fire. They came, with axes, and buckets and shovels. They chopped a hole in the wall where the chimney was, and poured buckets of water down it. The house was sooty, smokey, wet, with plaster all over the floors. But Mom just gathered us all around, in tears, and we had a group hug. And my parents that night had us do a fire escape drill, and designated a certain tree in the yard as the gathering place.

vintage-rotary-dial-phone-mid-century-StrombergCarlson-wall-phone-with-bell-Laurel-Leaf-Farm-item-no-u3545-1.jpgThat old crank phone gave way to an on-the-wall dial phone with a short cord. There was no privacy on our calls, as we could only walk a couple  feet away from the unit. By this time, we used the phone a little more socially, but Mom was usually right there, listening in to the calls. She always knew who we were talking to and what was said!

Long distance calls were rare and special. They were expensive and we had to watch the clock so that only a few precious minutes and cents were spent. For some reason, Mom thought that since we were talking to people who were further away, that she should up the volume of her voice. No matter how many times we told her that she didn’t need to shout on long distance calls, she still continued to raise her voice.  And because long distance was such a luxury, we had a special signal that we used to let Mom and Dad know that we had arrived safely at our destination:  we called home…. let it ring once…. and hung up.  No charges that way!


Pay phones were something else to deal with. Mom always made sure I had a dime with me…. just in case…..


We have some favorite memories of Mom and the phone. She had called a local business, called The Big Bear. That company always answered the phone with, “Good morning (afternoon). This is the Big Bear.” Mom must have mis-dialed. The woman answering the phone did not say those words. That flustered Mom, and she blurted out, “Is this the Big Bear?” There was silence on the other end….. and then the woman said, “Well, I never.” and hung up. We found it hilarious. Another time she called a farm supply store, looking for an electric cattle prod. Once again, she was a bit flustered during the call, and tried to explain to the fellow on the other end that she needed it for her husband. More laughter…..   Another memory:  Mom always cleared her throat several times before answering the phone…. or making a call.  And she didn’t answer with the typical “Hello”,  but rather she said, “Yellow.”   We never figured out why.


The wall phones and desk phones with the squiggly cords gave way to cell phones. Mom was absolutely taken with the cell phone. By this point in life, the phone was a social need, not just something for emergencies or information. She loved to settle back, and dial her sisters, or her children and chat away. Just think….. no extra charge for long distance! But if she was sitting in Iowa talking to someone in Colorado, she still talked louder.

By the end of her life, Mom spent some time in rehab nursing care. The little cell phone went with her, along with her charger. Her sight meant that someone had to help her dial, and to plug in the charger. Her phone mysteriously got wet. The replacement disappeared, probably accidentally dropped into the trash can. Then she used our phones. We would dial, put it to her ear, and she would smile and start chatting. I think it was a highlight of her day.

Mom never quite mastered the idea that one could be somewhere besides home and still talk on the phone. Sometimes when she would call me, she would say, “You must be home now.” At first I would tell her that no, I was in the car, but my phone was with me. Then I just began to agree. Home was wherever the phone was.

Father, may we never forget the benefits of communication…. with both You and with those we love.  Thank you for the gift of technology and help us to not abuse it.  Amen

To God be the Glory,



Published in: on April 16, 2018 at 2:06 am  Leave a Comment  
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