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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

Gray Matters: Perhaps bigger isn't always better

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The world is getting smaller, and so is everything else, well, with the exception of the national debt, the oil spill, and those related matters, but you know what I mean.

I'm thinking right now of the telephone. As I look at this little device in my hand, I'm reminded of the phone we had when I was a child. How many of you remember that big oak box on the wall?

The two round metal ringers peered out like two all-seeing eyes and beneath them was the mouthpiece. The receiver to be held to the ear was suspended from a cord on one side and the little crank used to activate the ringers was on the other.

We were all on party lines. There were several such loops out from one central office. That operator was never addressed by her name, but was always called "Central." Each of the families on a line had their own ring.

Ours was a short and a long. Others were two longs, two longs and a short, and so on. Whenever the phone rang we had the option of answering our own ring or picking up the receiver and listening to our neighbor's conversation, anonymously of course.

That was an instant source of information (gossip?) and there was also an added option. I know nothing of the inner workings of the system, but somehow, two of those lines could get crossed so you could hear conversations on another line as well.

Called "cross talk," it was a bit more difficult to hear, but still audible. Now I'm reminded of our nearest neighbor, Nona, a semi-invalid who had great difficulty walking. In fact, I don't think I ever saw her outside their home, but she was a reliable source of area information.

She spent all of her spare time sitting on a tall stool from which she could reach the phone. Whenever we went with our mother to pay Nona a visit, we were enlightened with all of the information she had gotten on "cross talk." It wasn't that she was a vicious gossip, but just that she liked to know what was going on.

Too, I'm reminded of another situation that involved our party line. My dad used to hire some of our cousins from Nebraska to come pick corn. That was in the days when the entire crop was garnered an ear at a time in horse drawn wagons.

One year my cousin, Verle, brought a second-cousin of ours with him. This guy was a real character. His name was Bernard, but he preferred to be called, Barney, and referred to himself as "Barnacle Bill, the sailor." I had arranged for him to meet a cute neighbor girl to whom he took quite a shine.

He was too busy for much dating, but after supper almost every evening he would call her on the phone. Word soon got around so I think everyone on the party line would listen in and thoroughly enjoy his antics. It left quite a void when the harvest was over and those guys returned to Nebraska.

From the wall-hung behemoth, through desk models, to cell phones; from cranking to dialing to touch-tone, we've come a long way. And though I have trouble maneuvering my arthritic fingertips over the tiny keys, I guess I will have to admit that bigger isn't always better.