Back in my day, we had one corded, rotary telephone in the house. For youngsters who don't know what I'm talking about and for older folks who may have forgotten, it looked like this.
That's it. Unless you were face to face with someone, that was your only option of communication. Well, that and the good ol' US Postal service. And megaphones and smoke signals. And dinner bells.
You get the point.
The phone was in the kitchen, on a washstand, next to a heating vent, behind Dad's chair at the table, under a black and white television that sat on a bracket mounted to the wall. On cold days after school, I would stand over the vent to warm up and watch Dark Shadows, Love American Style, and Match Game - in that order. On Saturday mornings, I watched cartoons there with my nightgown on - it was like being in my own little heated tent. And that's where I talked on the phone.
I had a lot of really good friends, and some of them were "long distance." My parents convinced me that it cost some astronomical amount of money to make those special phone calls. I could chat for a while with Jill, but a call to Kathy meant convincing them of a life or death situation. If I did get to place the call, I was told to "make it quick."
Here's the kicker: Four households shared one telephone line. Our little dead end gravel road had a "party line." Sometime during the late 1970's, the family at the end of the road moved out and the couple that moved in got their own telephone line. I considered that snooty. That took our "party" down to three.
There was party line etiquette. When you picked up the phone and heard someone speaking, you gently put the receiver back in it's cradle and checked back after a few minutes. After checking more than a few times, the receiver was put back with a little more force. When you were talking and heard someone pick up their receiver, that was a signal to wrap things up. You were never supposed to listen in on a conversation, but I caught the neighbor kids doing it more than once. (In all fairness to them, I did have the juiciest stories on the line.)
I don't remember when we got rid of the party line. I'm fairly certain we were forced to get our own line by AT&T. Why fix something that's not broken? I know it was after 1983, because that's the year I met my husband. John distinctly remembers having dinner with me and my parents, when the phone rang and nobody made an effort to answer it. One of my parents saw the puzzled look on his face and said, "That's not our ring." Yes, technology was so advanced that even though the phone rang in every house on the party line, we all had distinctive rings.
It still floors me from time to time, just how much things have changed in less than 30 years.
Now excuse me, while I go Skype my spoiled kid.