Saturday, August 18, 2012

Part 1: A Ringing Force in Societal Evolution

A later version of grandma's phone, a dial telephone still on its wiry stand. Note the fabric cord.

It has become a rite of passage, a way to assert independence and communicate with the outside world. The telephone. Its evolution reflects the vast social changes for those who walked this Earth during my lifetime.  An impetus for change, it symbolizes the mindset and cultural transformation of each generation. I use the present tense, as it seems that every day brings a step in another direction as we strive and grow in our communication with others.

One of my earliest memories is fear of the curious apparatus in my grandmother’s living room.  I can’t place my age when I first noticed that black handset sitting on the wiry stand, but even today I shudder, just a bit, with the memory of my grandmother’s rare scolding. Drawn to the mysterious object, I picked it up, only to hear the words, “Central, number please.” Grandma was right there admonishing me to “put that thing down” and extolling me to never touch it again.  The strange voice I had awakened from the peculiar contraption frightened me. It was something beyond my understanding, as were my grandma’s unusual harsh words.

My grandmother never drove but she sure could talk on the phone!
As I reflect on those first phones, I am sure to my grandmother and many others like her, they inaugurated a welcome sense of freedom. So many women of her generation never drove; rather they relied on their husbands to transport them from place to place. Through those telephone lines, recipes could be exchanged, gossip could be shared, and feelings and worries had a receptive ear at any time during the long days at home. Female bonding took on an enhanced role, thanks to the phone.

Time marched on and that sole telephone in both my grandmother’s home and our home now sported a dial. The boxy phone mounted on the kitchen wall would ring and was answered by the mindlessly polite requirement, “Hart residence, Kathy speaking.”  Those were the days when you could pick up that tan receiver to call for the time and a female voice would nasally recite the hour and minute. You relied on the phone book and few ever used an area code. In fact, the first two numbers were often a word. In our town, we said Canal for the initial numerals 22. My grandmother’s number began with Hudson.  While today we struggle with remembering our own cell number, I can still effortlessly rattle off my best friend’s number and my grandmother’s number. They are deeply ingrained.

Sometime in my high school years, the Mad Men of advertising lured me with the image that I could be a princess.  Along with most girls, I longed for the sleek dial phone with the coiled cord, so captivatingly crowned, the Princess Phone. It was a status symbol and sitting next to a bed, provided independence from parental ears.

Stay tuned for the Evolution of a Princess


  1. It's interesting how those early memories set the parameters for how we view particular new inventions and products. I guess that's where "thinking outside the box" comes in. Or reading the product manual. But back then, I bet "that thing" didn't come with instructions...other than grandma's...

    1. Good point, Jacqi! As an educator, I thought your point of early memories setting parameters to be an excellent one. Thanks for pointing that out!

      After I wrote this, I got to thinking of phone numbers and realized my mother still uses her best friend's 4 digit phone number as part of her email address. Guess those are deeply ingrained. I wondered if I should go back and insert that bit of trivia but then I realized this post was about the genealogy of MY experience with the phone so...likely best to leave as is with the point being made in a comment??

      Thanks for reading, Jacqi!

  2. Phone numbers seemed more interesting when they began with words. My earliset phone number that I learned as a child started with "TRiangle."

  3. I wonder who determined those words, etc. Sounds like a topic for further investigation!

  4. This is a priceless post! Love your pictures and memories. I remember getting a bratty kids on babysitting jobs, and threatening to call their parents on their date. I would dial the number for "time" and fake talk to the parents. After I hung up, I would say, "Your Dad said that you had better be good, or that you have to go to bed right now!" The whole charade would usually do the trick, lol.

  5. Thanks for reading! I love your babysitting story - too funny!

  6. I, too, can still remember the phone numbers of my childhood. The wind up phone on the wall was on a party line, and our ring was a short and three longs. Any other number not on the party line would have to be booked verbally through the operator at the exchange, which you could hail with one long! Thanks for evoking those memories.

  7. Thanks for reading, Brett. I think all these memories should be preserved for our descendants who will want to understand our mindset! I appreciate your memory of the phone - thanks again!