Thursday, May 9, 2013

Do You Remember Those Old Telephones?

Last Friday evening , a friend I were having dinner at Charlie’s Front Door in Hoffmantown Center on Menaul. Bobbi is the considerate lady who saw to it I survived the first month after my back surgery last August.

Side note: Apparently “Lady” is an old Oklahoma term for a first class broad, while “Woman” seems to be the preferred term of today’s ladies…uh, women. I’ve gotten in trouble several times of late attempting to confer a compliment by using my Oklahoma upbringing, only to be corrected by modern ladi…wom…well, females. All of this is apropos of nothing in this piece, but I’m at an age where I get easily distracted.

Back to Charlie’s. Shortly after we were seated, two couples were escorted to an adjoining table…and I do mean adjoining. We heard every word they said, and I’m certain they were privy to our conversation, as well. After learning one couple was from Dallas visiting New Mexico friends, I very politely intruded on their supposed privacy to volunteer that I was a TCU grad and familiar with their part of the country. I withheld the information that while I liked Fort Worth, I considered Dallas to be “No-Man’s Land.” Even so, there are some nice people living there, and these seemed like two of them.
Broken Bow Water Tower

The cross tables conversations continued, and when asked if I was from originally from New Mexico, I replied that I hailed from the southeastern Oklahoma town of Broken Bow. It’s a small world, folks. It seems the gentleman from Dallas likes to fish in Broken Bow Lake and at Beaver’s Bend on the Mountain Fork River. During the ensuing conversation, Bobbi made sure they knew I was a writer and shamelessly plugged my books. I could only sit and blush. I’m a writer, for Heaven’s Sake, not a salesman, and quite introverted at that. Bobbi, a retired airline hostess (I’m probably in trouble again because I’m not sure that the proper word isn’t “stewardess”) doesn’t know how to spell shy.
Broken Bow Public Library--But not the one I remember

During the discourse, I mentioned I’d done a blog post about Broken Bow and provided my blog address. So perhaps these new friends will be reading this one day after they finish fishing the San Juan up near Farmington. If so…hi. Enjoyed our inadvertent night out together.

At any rate, that got me to thinking about Broken Bow again (and it’s only taken me 424 words to get around to the subject I wanted to address).

When I was a kid (yes, I can remember that far back…sometimes more vividly than what happened last week), there weren’t many telephones in our little town. My grandmother had one of them. Her number was 28. That’s it: t-w-e-n-t-y-e-i-g-h-t. For a while, we didn’t have a phone of our own, but that was okay. She was just at the bottom of the hill, one block from our house. If someone wanted one of us, she’d send Granddaddy Bill up with a message. Or more likely, she’d wait until my sister or one of my brothers or I came down for a visit. Granddaddy Bill usually had a watermelon cut, so that was often.

The telephone was a long brown wooden box mounted on the wall of the kitchen. It had a big black plastic (or was it Bakelite in those days?) dish-like thing poking out of the middle, a hook for the receiver on one side, and a crank on the other. I used to stare up at it with my mouth hanging open, marveling that we could stand in our own kitchen (or my grandmother’s, at least) and talk to all the people in town…providing they had another instrument like that one in their home. And at least 27 others did, because Mama’s was number 28.

I didn’t use the phone often; after all, I was a little kid, and almost anybody I wanted to raise, I could reach by standing in the front yard and hollering. Nonetheless, I used it a couple of times. I remember the first time I did so. I stood on a chair, put that black receiver thingy to my ear and gave the crank a little spin. No good. Not hard enough. I tried again, and then a stranger’s voice came back in my ear.

“Number, please?”

“Twenty-eight,” I said.

“No, no. That’s the number you’re calling from. What number do you want?”

That was a stumper, and it was all I could do to keep from putting the cradle back on it’s hook (I didn’t know about technical terms like “hanging up” at the time) and running to hide under the bed. (I’ve already warned you I’m shy, remember?)

Fortunately, I froze instead. So the voice asked who I wanted to speak to.

“Who…who’s this?” I remember asking.

“This is Susan. I’m the operator. Who are you looking for, honey?”


“Jimmy who?”

“Dunno. Just Jimmy.”

“Where does he live?”

“On the highway out south of town?”

“Oh, you must mean the Hinsons. Just a minute, sweetheart.”

Lo and behold, I was speaking to Jimmy’s mother in less time than it would have taken me to run and hide under the bed. Unfortunately, Jimmy was off playing at somebody else’s house, but that’s beside the point.

What is the point? Try that with today’s fast, sophisticated, automated communications systems and see how far you get.


Next week: Judging from recent posts, it could be anything.

New posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.


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