October 21, 2007


When I was a kid, no one ever went running through the house asking, "Where's the phone?" No one ever began tossing newspapers and papers off the couch, rummaging about, swearing, searching desperately for the phone. No one ever yelled, "Someone call me so I can find my phone!"

The telephone, black and impressively big, was firmly anchored onto the kitchen wall. We all knew where it was. My mother kept a pad of paper and pen right near the phone, so that anyone who answered the phone could take messages. The answering machine hadn't been invented yet. Cell phones hadn't been invented yet either, so the only time you might see a phone vibrating against someone's leg would be in a comedy skit.

I can still remember my first cordless phone, and what a luxury it was. With several small kids at home, the telephone was my connection to the world of adults. The cordless phone allowed me to talk to a friend while I followed my kids around to make sure they weren't sticking things in their mouths or setting anything on fire. I learned to play Candy Land with a small child, change a toddler's diaper, breastfeed an infant, and balance a phone on my shoulder all at the same time. But yeah, it was weird to have a phone that I could lose. My friends would come over with their kids on Wednesday mornings, and right before they left, they'd gather up all the toys that were scattered about my small living room and dump them in the toy box. Inevitably, that's where I'd find the phone.

My kids have grown up with the idea that phones are portable devices that can be tossed from person to person and left stranded wherever you happen to be when you end the phone call. Without a phone attached to the wall, they were never trained to write down those phone messages. Shaggy Hair Boy is usually the quickest to answer the phone, but he is terrible about giving me messages, even when I'm just downstairs in my office. As my parents' car will pull into the driveway, he'll yell, "Oh, yeah, I forgot I was supposed to tell you. Grandma said that they were coming over."

Yesterday, my mother called and left a message with Shaggy Hair Boy that she had apple pies in the oven and that we could have one if we came over at 4 pm to pick it up. Shaggy Hair Boy came bounding down the stairs to tell me the news. He loves homemade apple pie. Just before 4 pm, he reminded me again. When we entered my mother's house, which smelled wonderfully of cinnamon, my mother laughed. "I knew somehow that this was one phone message that Shaggy Hair Boy would remember to give you."


Kyla said...

The technological generational divides are something, aren't they? My friend, who is my age, teaches high schoolers and when she told them when we were in school we didn't have text messaging they were completely shocked!

Tie-Dye Brother-in-law said...

"The answering machine hadn't been invented yet."

Wow, jo(e), you're older than you look!

(The first automatic answering machine was invented in 1935. The Ansafone was the first answering machine sold in the USA, beginning in 1960. Online reference: "The History of Answering Machines", at http://inventors.about.com/od/astartinventions/a/Answering.htm )

And no, I've never heard of "poetic license". :-)

jo(e) said...

Tie-dye brother-in-law: Oh, you are just like Boy in Black, always worried about accuracy. I was going to say, "In those days, answering machines were used mostly for business purposes" but it didn't have quite the same ring.

Be nice to me, or you'll never get your fifteen minutes of fame starring nude on my blog.

Tie-Dye Brother-in-law said...

"Be nice to me"

Two words:

Dark chocolate.


BerryBird said...

Sounds like Shaggy Hair Boy has selective memory. Homemade pie is good enough incentive for anyone, I am sure.

Patti said...

We just bought one of those rotary, heavy, black phones at a lawn sale last summer. I love hearing it ring! But WE was just discussing disconnecting our real phone, since we never seem to use it.

jar said...

We disconnected our real phone about 5 months ago. It still is wierd to see the old one on the wall and know that it doesn't work. I prefer the wall one for home use though. It's easier to hear and easier to use in an emergency. My biggest fear is that the house will burn down while I'm trying to find the phone or the battary will be dead.

kathy a. said...

we never had an answering machine until about 1985, and have managed to own the crappiest ones available in years since then.

but none of that matters, because nobody in the family ever leaves a message on the answering machine. there have been quite a few days when, no exaggeration, the machine has registered between 10 and 20 hang-up calls -- mostly, i found out later, attributable to a relative [usually a child] upset at not getting instant and in-person service on the answering end. technology only can do so much....

Rev Dr Mom said...

I still have one phone hooked to the wall--after living through the 'great blackout of 2003' in NYC, we discovered that you really do need one tethered for when the power goes out.

But it's in the kitchen, out of the way, so if the phone rings when I''m elsewhere, I'm always scrambling to find one of the handsets, cause there's no telling where the Kid left them.

Do you think the phrase "dialing the phone" will soon be obsolete?

east village idiot said...

How funny. My 9 year old son hates the phone. So does my husband. I'm still freaked out by how much people use their cell phones.

When 9/11 happened none of the cell phones worked...only the old fashioned non electric ones. Thank goodness my mom had one in the downstairs apartment. I guess that's why I don't put too much stock in cell phones.

Anonymous said...

This brought back memories...until the day she died, my grandmother had a phone on the wall right by the back door. It had a short cord and I could not go anywhere with it. It was so frustrating! At the time, my home phone was sitting on an end table in the living room and had a LONNNNNNNNNNNG cord that stretched clear into my bedroom so I could shut the door and have some privacy. Now, I live for cordless phones but in the deepest recesses of my basement, I am coveting an old fashioned, corded dial telephone...a classic!!!!

OneTiredEma said...

I call my cell phone from my home phone all the time. *blush* And the home phone can be "paged" from the base. So surely I can't be alone in my idiocy.

Although it's getting better (slightly) because I have a new phone that clips to my waist.

Oddly enough, though, my toddler son (who has never, to my knowledge, ever seen a rotary phone) was able to point out an old-fashioned phone in a book without a second's hesitation.

Kathryn said...

The thing that baffled me in childhood was the the phone was always in the hallway - the coldest, least conversation-friendly place in the house...It was the same everywhere I went.
Now, I'm amused at the way the action songs we sing with the toddlers at Little Fishes have had to be modified. When my children were tiny, the mummy in "3 little monkeys" would dial an imaginary phone as we sang
"Mummy called the doctor". Not any more...15 years, - not such a long time really, but another world in some ways.

Rana said...

It's really hard to find those older phones, especially if you want one with push-buttons instead of the rotary dial. I remember them as being totally bombproof; in these days of the cheapo phone, I rather miss that.

That said, I do remember being profoundly grateful that cordless phones - and cordless HEADSETS - existed several years ago when D. and I were doing the long-distance thing; when you talk for an hour or more on the phone every night, and can't switch ears (for some reason, I can't understand people over the phone if I listen with my right ear), it gets really tiring. Having the headset and being able to move around while talking was wonderful.

I got my cell so I could leave the house when I was an on-call temp worker; now I mostly use it when traveling, and to call my parents for "free."

YourFireAnt said...

I wonder what Kids of Today think about the phrase: dial the phone.


lizardek said...

What a great post :)