Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - April 28, 2006
I have no idea why I can remember the telephone number of the rural Kansas home I grew up in. It might be because it's the first telephone number I ever had - well, that my folks had. Maybe it's the almost musical nature of it - Parkway 6-3055. Art frequently belts out songs from the '40s and eventually Glenn Miller's "Pennsylvania 6-5000" will be among them - named for the telephone exchange of Miller's New York hotel residence. Parkway 6-3055 doesn't have quite the same rhythm, but I can imagine it as a song title anyway.
Whatever the reason the number has stayed with me, when I think of PA6-3055, it brings to mind all sorts of memories of my childhood. And many of those have to do with the fact that we were on a party line - a quaint concept in today's society where households have call forwarding, access to the Internet and lines for each family member at home as well as cell phones to keep them constantly connected, even when they're away from home.
I don't recall exactly who was on our party line, but I know Grandma and Grandpa Freeland were. I can name a few neighbors who were, too.
Our black, squatty rotary-dial telephone sat near our kitchen table and when we wished to make a call, we picked up the phone oh so quietly, just in case someone else was already on it. If it was occupied, we put it gently back on the hook - well, we usually did.
Everyone on the line had a unique ring sequence. Ours was two longs and a short. But it didn't just ring into our house. Anyone who was on our party line knew when we - or anyone else for that matter - received a call.
Although unwritten etiquette was that others on the line weren't supposed to listen in, we could always tell when someone else picked up by the tell-tale click and the extra breathing. Everyone knew that any call they received might be overheard by half the neighborhood and that any juicy news would spread like wildfire. Hence, I received warnings from my parents not to reveal anything too personal on the telephone.
But as a youngster, I was not always sure just what was private and what wasn't. So one day when Grandma Freeland called to find out what my Dad was doing, I told her he was outside taking the pot to the outhouse. We didn't have indoor plumbing until I was 7, so this was just a normal part of life as far as I was concerned. Mom, however, was mortified.
One time, my brother Dave loaned Dad's pickup to a friend, who promptly rolled it on a rocky country road. Dave called to let Dad know about the accident, and it wasn't long before we had several calls of concern to make sure everyone was OK.
Although I don't remember any emergencies that warranted it, Mom told me that five short rings was the signal that everyone was to pick up at once. She said it could have been a call to help put out a grass fire or a summons from a neighbor who needed help finding cattle that had wandered outside the fences.
Mom also remembered that those who were able and had some knowledge had to keep a box of tools at home to help maintain the lines in case wind, ice storms or other weather conditions took them down.
Although lack of privacy was part of the old party line system, now that I think of it, it seems to be part of the current cell phone culture, too. In fact, people have become accustomed to using their cell phones almost any place.
I heard a story about a fellow who went into a restroom stall, only to have the guy next to him ask how he was doing. It seemed like a strange thing to do, but he answered he was just fine. Then the voice asked if they could meet later. That was a bit over the top and the man answered that he didn't think so. At that point, the voice said, "I'll call you back later. The guy in the next stall keeps talking to me!"
Now that's a bit too much party line!