It was a beautiful day, soft and quiet. As I left for my walk, I thought … perfect. I can use the time away from unfinished projects, to-do lists and the piles of paperwork on my desk. My solitary walk is always a lovely time to regroup and refocus. Unfortunately, shortly after stepping out, I could hear someone in the distance talking on her cell phone as she came toward me down the hill, I realized she wasn’t so much talking, as she was yelling, and then pausing for a response from the other side. It was incredibly irritating. And once again I wondered at the inconsiderate behavior of those who feel entitled to desecrate the silence the rest of us enjoy.

“Not rude much,” I muttered facetiously, from across the street. She, of course could not hear me, muffled up as she was in her self-contained conversation. However, a few steps later I started to laugh … she sounded just like my grandmother talking on the telephone seventy-plus years ago.

Back in the early fifties, my grandparent’s farmhouse had a boxy wall-hung telephone. It had a speaker funnel mounted on the face, and a separate ear piece with a long cord hanging on the side. Whenever the phone rang with the two short rings indicating a call on hold for them, Grandmother would detach the ear piece, hold it to her left ear, stand as close as possible to the box, and yell as loud as she could into the funnel. She was convinced the greater the volume of sound she produced, the more clearly she could be heard at the other end. As far as she was concerned, she was talking to someone far beyond the kitchen where the phone box lived.  So, she made sure her voice was loud, clear, and STRIDENT. I can still hear it today, shattering their peaceful life. She never did quite grasp the concept of speaking into a telephone as if in normal conversation.

My grandparent’s phone was on a party line, which meant they shared the line with their rural neighbors. There were special ring sequences indicating a phone call meant for them, or for the Macalister’s, or the Crock’s, or the Whosit’s. The result was they always knew if anyone else was getting a call. If they wanted to make a call, they wound up the little ringer-thingy on the right side of the phone to call the operator, who would in turn place an outgoing call for them. However, if they picked up the phone to call the operator and a neighbor was using the line, they had to wait for whoever was on the line to finish their call, in order to contact the operator.  Occasionally they would interrupt the conversation and ask for the use of the line, or I suppose they could just listen in and make rude noises to encourage others to free up the line. Obviously, the concept of a private conversation was not part of the telephone format in rural Iowa.

Today privacy is once again a thing of the past. Ironically, it is as if we have re-created something like my grandparent’s old box telephone. Who has not encountered a cell phone user who feels it necessary to yell into their phone. And just like Grandmother, their one-way conversation subjects the rest of us to a barrage of useless noisy yak. We also find ourselves interrupting others in order to clear the lines of communication. Indeed, with our ear-buds and iPhones we seem to have regressed to those golden days of yore, and re-invented the party line.

But the good news is I have found a rather satisfying method to offset the irritation caused by abusive cell phone yellers. Now, whenever I encounter one of them, it gives me great pleasure to mentally dress them in a flowery house-coat just like my grandmother wore. She had an endless supply. And, if they are really loud, I add a ruffled bib apron, a pair of support hose, tan orthopedic shoes, reading glasses on a chain, a ratty cardigan sweater, and curly white hair.

One Reply to “PARTY LINES”

  1. This is so amusing, Connie. You prompted my memory of my grandmother’s huge wall phone, although you have described the whole process with much more detail and humor than I have in my writing. Very enjoyable. Thanks.

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