When Blue-eyed Ultimate Player called my cell phone one day, it was because none of my sons were answering their cell phones. I didn’t know where my sons were — probably throwing a disc around somewhere — but I chatted with Blue-eyed Ultimate Player for a few minutes.
After I hung up, I thought about how I miss having one landline for the whole family. I used to chat with my kids’ friends or my husband’s friends when they called. I wonder if, with the proliferation of cell phones, that kind of small talk is a lost art.
I can remember the first phone call I ever made, back in first grade. I stood on a wooden chair in the kitchen, reaching up to the black phone that hung on the wall, and carefully dialed the number that Kindergarten Friend had written down. I was painfully shy, so calling anyone on the phone was a very big deal.
I called, and the phone made this weird noise. “That means no one is home,” Red-haired Sister said. I hung up the phone.
Then I called again. I got the weird noise again I called again, and got the weird noise again. I called again, and hung up again. I was frustrated because I knew that she was home; it didn’t make sense.
“Their phone must be broken,” I said to my sister. I dialed again, just to show her. I held out the phone to let her hear the weird noise.
Just then a man’s voice said, “Hello?”
I answered shyly, “Hello?”
Then I said the line I’d practiced. “May I speak to Kindergarten Friend?”
“I’m her Dad,” he said. “Was that you calling before?"
I was terrified — his asking me a question was not in the script! But his voice seemed gentle.
“Yes,” I managed to squeak out that one syllable.
“See, you need to let it ring awhile to give people time to get to the phone,” he said. “When you hear the ringing noise, count until you hear it ring ten times before you hang up.”
What he said made sense. For the rest of my life, I always counted until I heard the dial tone ten times before I hung up. That is, until people started getting cell phones and answering on the first ring.
For a shy child, chatting with the parents of friends I called was often terrifying, but it forced me to learn the skill of making small talk. I had to identify myself, say something polite, and then ask for my friend. That was the formula.
I miss the days of the landline, the way that sharing a phone helped integrate a community. Sure, the cell phone is convenient, but I’m sad that we’ve lost those conversations between generations. I guess I have to look instead for messages from my kids’ friends on my facebook wall.