I’m ‘party line’ years old

Published 1:52 am Wednesday, November 16, 2022

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How old am I? If you measured my age according to telephone history, I’m ‘party line’ years old. It’s not as much fun as it sounds.

A party line was a telephone line shared with several neighbors. The number of rings indicated the household receiving a call. As a child I remember picking up the receiver to place a call and hearing women speaking, sometimes in French. If they thought speaking in French would prevent me from understanding what they were saying, they were right. Usually, the next words were in English and quite clear, “Get off the phone!”

Party lines gave way to private lines but calls outside of our immediate area (Reserve) were long-distance calls and cost more. A call to LaPlace was long-distance.

I also remember being able to dial O and reach an operator. (And when I say ‘dial’ I mean dial. When I was young all phones had rotary dials. No push buttons until later.)  Operators were used to help place collect calls (charging the person you were calling with the long-distance fee) or third-party calls (billing a call to someone else). To verify my memory, I looked it up on my cell phone. That’s how far phones have progressed.

My phone is no longer attached to the wall; I wear it on my wrist. Today’s cell phones can translate those French conversations I overheard. They can also replace calendars, cameras, alarm clocks, landlines, calculators, phone books, note pads and computers. I just don’t like when they replace conversations.

I’ve observed people in restaurants, in meetings, and at ball games silently looking at their phone or talking while they text. And I’ve been just as guilty. At such times, in the back of my mind, I hear my childhood neighbor, “Get off the phone!”


Ronny Michel can be reached at rmichel@rtconline.com.