Ring-a-ling, who’s there? It’s me, Becky!
Just look at this beautiful antique telephone—and it’s in my house! My mother was an antique collector, and my sisters and I have been the recipients of her beautiful antiques. This particular telephone was common about 1880. It’s extremely heavy and requires a stud to be mounted. When my grandchildren come over to visit, they always enjoy turning the crank on the right when they pick up the earpiece on the left. And then they say all kinds of things in the mouth piece!
And what a thankful Nana I am to see them enjoy my antique telephone. The only other place they could see one of these things would probably be in a museum, and even then, it would be hands off.
Today, we hold telephones in the palm of our hands, and some of us may even have telephones on our wrists in the form of a watch. Unbelievable!
When I traveled to my maternal grandparents’ house as a young girl, I observed how a party line telephone worked. My grandparents “shared” their telephone with a couple of neighbors. One was Mrs. Bough.
Anyway, here is how a party-line worked. A party line was a local telephone loop circuit that was shared by more than one subscriber, especially in rural areas in the first half of the 20th century. It was not uncommon to pick up a telephone receiver and hear a conversation taking place. There was supposed to be party line etiquette which dictated never listening in on another person’s call. Each subscriber had an assigned ring, some short, some long. And families had to know their own ring code.
I will never forget the day I picked up the heavy black receiver resting on the cradle of the telephone in Mamaw’s kitchen, and I heard someone already talking.
“Mamaw, what’s going on? Someone is already talking on the telephone!”
“Hang it up, Becky. Don’t listen.”
And I obediently replaced the receiver, fascinated by this strange phenomenon as my grandmother explained party lines to me.
One day I heard my mother say she was going to call my aunt. Mamaw said, “Be careful what you say, Alberta. You know Mrs. Bough is always listening.”
What? I thought to myself.
I learned Mrs. Bough listened in on all the phone calls coming and going from the Thomas family.
Sometimes Mrs. Bough called Mamaw and would gossip about all kinds of things going on in the town, news purportedly traveling around through other party lines. After hanging up, Mamaw would chuckle to my mother and say, “Well, Mrs. Bough evidently listened in on my phone call, otherwise she would not have known about such and such.”
Mamaw never allowed me or my sisters or any visiting cousins to listen in on Mrs. Bough’s phone calls. That was a big NO. My grandmother was just adhering to honest telephone etiquette, but truthfully, she was also imparting the traits of respect and honesty to her grandchildren.
Oh, those were the days. What I wouldn’t give to pick up my cell phone and call my Mamaw Thomas and thank her for these valuable life lessons.
Do any of you remember party lines? Any other antique telephones out there? Just reply to this email or scroll down to make a comment. I reply to all comments and emails I receive! And if you know of others in your circle who enjoy family stories, please feel free to forward.
And . . . do you have a special family story to share? Just let me know at email@example.com.