I suppose I am a child of my times. I guess that’s where we all are. Those early experiences we all had somehow find a way to influence our thoughts and emotions for the rest of our lives. I always heard it and now am experiencing it: the older I get the more those early experiences seem to come into play.

Here’s the thing: I remember when the telephone man brought our first phone to the house at 3711 Pontiac St. in Baton Rouge. It was a bakelite monstrosity that weighed 15 pounds if an ounce. The number was 4881. We shared a two party line for a while until single party lines were available. Mrs. Davis, a kind of relative, was our partyliner and had the habit of picking up on our ring. I can hear my mother firmly telling her to hang up, as it was clear when the line was open on the other end.

I loved to talk on the phone. As the “kid” in the room, I seldom had that chance. I remember once the phone rang in 1942 and it was my uncle Jerry, after whom I was nicknamed, calling from the Brooklyn Navy Yard. He was a gunner’s mate on a destroyer. I said Hi uncle Jerry, you sound so far away, and he said he was. He said, put your aunt Clara on. I called out to aunt Clara, it’s uncle Jerry come quick. To this day I wish he had asked me how I was doing. I’m sure he wanted to know.

She got on the phone and they talked a long time. She hung up and looked at us all gathered around in that little confining living room, and said, He’s going to sea. He didn’t say so but I know it. He’s going to sea. My mother made a pot of coffee. And he did go to sea. The Coral Sea, Saipan, Guadalcanal, Midway. He came home without a scratch after all that and drank himself to death.

It wasn’t long before I had friends who called and we talked so long. We were being with each other on the telephone. It wasn’t necessary to keep saying things – just knowing that on the other end was someone you cared about was enough. It was communicating over a new medium. Conversation was a big thing in our culture. The advent of the telephone simply expanded that opportunity.

Mostly the phone these days is used in a utilitarian manner. Making appointments. Ordering stuff. If someone lives far away there may be a long conversation now and then. Email, chat, and FaceBook seem to have usurped the phone these days to a large degree. A multitude of micro Twitter-like messages take the place of long conversations with long pauses and deep sighs.

It’s still a thrill for me to get a call from a valued friend and realize they just want to talk a while and catch up – real time – live conversation. I love that line by Paul Simon, “These are the days of miracle and wonder. This is the long distance call.” It seemed that way to me then. Still does.

I got such a call today. And old friend, and we talked about life and how with each passing year it becomes more precious. We’ll see each other again in the summer and take a boat ride out into the middle of the lake and talk and toss back a few and bask in the aura of that original low tech communication application: live conversation, interspersed with meaningful periods of silence. No electricity required.

2 Comments

  1. Like you, Jerry, I grew up in the party phone day. My number…193 ring 2. There must have be 10 or 12 other families on our line. What fun to eavesdrop on juicy gossip. Did it all the time. How else did you know what was going on? But, now, I really do not like talking on the phone. Haven’t for years, well before all the tech stuff. Don’t know why, just the way I am. So I much prefer communicating via email or something like Facebook. I have one particular friend that I have had since I was about 11 and we talk for a long time once in a while but I always find my self itching to get off. We never get enough of talking when we are together however, so it isn’t the talking per se. It is the instrument. Call me crazy..wouldn’t be the first time someone has!!

    • Good morning Priscilla. When I think of it I believe I have spent years on the phone. Now I have great difficulty understanding on the phone. It depends on the voice. I try to do my communicating like this – from the keyboard. Sometimes, specially in a group, I feel like i am in a foreign country. So you could say I miss the phone but what i really mean is that I miss the excellent hearing I once had.

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