Sharing a phone


I really wasn’t into telephones much until I was at least ten. When we wanted to contact a friend we simply walked over to the house and knocked on the door “Can Jimmy come out, Mrs. Byrne?” It worked pretty well for the most part and since we all lived on the same block; if Jimmy could not come outside to play it was just a few steps to Craig’s house, or Tommy’s. No big deal.

My only exposure to the telephone was if Aunt Mildred or Aunt Eleanor called to wish me a happy birthday or something. Those calls were mercifully short, thank goodness; I could only handle “polite” for so long before the fact I was bored to tears and would rather be anyplace but standing and talking on the telephone would begin to show in my voice.

People then couldn’t just wander from room to room as they carried on with their phone conversations; because of the cord. The receiver was actually connected to the phone by a cord of about three feet in length; not one of those fifteen-foot coiled cords of later years but a straight cord. Of course one could pick up the entire phone and move an additional two or three feet but mobility while on the phone was limited.

In 1958, after making arrangements to keep me attending James J. Hill Elementary, they moved back to their house on Summit. I continued stay with my daycare family during the week until my parents came to pick me up after work.

This was when the phone became an important tool for me, as on the weekends I was no longer able to just go to my friends’ homes. At first the calls were to make our plans for the weekend…sometimes they would make the two-mile trek to our place, and sometimes I would spend the day hanging out on the old block with them.

It wasn’t long before we learned at least one game we could play on the phone, and our phone calls would begin to last longer. What game could we have possibly played on a rotary Bakelite telephone? We were boys, accustomed to playing with toy soldiers and quickly learned that by dialing a “1,” we could hear a single loud click and on up to “0” when we’d cut loose a machine-gun burst of ten loud clicks, and thus we “invented” telephone war.

I’m pretty certain we weren’t the only ones to come up with this, but we liked to believe we were.

I’m equally certain that was when I first heard my parent’s say, “Get OFF the phone!”