Hello Operator

phonePeople’s love affair with the telephone has been going on for longer than I can remember. In the not so distant past, telephones were all standard black models. When you picked up the receiver, the operator answered and you told her the number of the person you wanted to call. If you couldn’t remember the number, she probably knew it anyhow.

The telephone occupied a place of prominence in the home, usually on a special table of its own called a telephone stand, for lack of a better term. This was a tiny desk with a matching stool that scooted underneath where you theoretically could sit while you talked. Some homes even had special “telephone nooks” which were built right into the wall.

In those days, telephones were often party lines. Entire neighborhoods shared the same phone line. If you picked up the phone, someone else might be talking, so you would hang up and wait until they finished before you could call. This led to much snooping and “listening in” on other people’s conversations. There were not many secrets in those days.

My family shared a line with another family that had a small child who often took the phone off the receiver. If we really needed to use the phone, we would go to the neighbor’s house, knock on the door, and ask them to please put the phone back on the hook so we could make a call.

Calling the operator became obsolete and new-fangled dials took over the phones. Everyone had to get a new phone and learn how to use a dial. We had funny phone numbers like TRiangle 6-7890. Eventually the phone company gave up on words and went to the digit numbers of today.

Wall phones, another innovation, were often located in the kitchen. Curly cords that were 11 feet long enabled one to talk while cooking. Women cooked a lot back then. Then in a stroke of marketing genius, phones started to come in decorator colors and different styles. It wasn’t too long before you could actually buy and own your phone instead of leasing it from the phone company.

When push button phones came along, everyone again had to get a new phone to keep up with technology. One phone in a home was no longer enough, and everyone had his or her own extension. Some families had separate lines for their teenagers, which enabled kids to tie up two phones instead of just one.

Answering machines became the newest trend and you no longer had to answer the phone unless it was someone you wanted to speak with. This led to much frustration by callers who were wise to the ways of the answering machines and yelled, “I know you are there! Pick up the phone!”

Things changed so fast after this that it became impossible to keep up with it all. Cordless phones, caller ID, voice mail, and a slew of other services so numerous that it takes an entire page in the front of the phone book to describe them and a technical genius to figure out how to use them.

Shopping for a phone involves an adventure into technology that boggles the mind with variety and complexity. The availability of different types and styles is more than anyone can imagine, much less describe. If you want a land line, plan to spend a lot of time reading about features on the boxes.

Personal cellular phones are rapidly replacing land lines and becoming smaller every day. Technologies are merging, with text messaging instead of voice, video apps, phone access to the Internet, GPS enabled phones and digital voice assistants to do everything so you don’t have to.

It’s a long shot from the old black phone on the telephone stand to the slim smart phone in my purse or the Blue Tooth hanging on someone’s ear. We can scarcely remember how things used to be. Still, the old black phone did have its advantages. It was never lost and didn’t require a battery to operate.

Copyright 2006 Sheila Moss

About Sheila Moss

My stories are about daily life and the funny things that happen to all of us. My columns have been published in numerous newspapers, magazines, anthologies, and websites.
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7 Responses to Hello Operator

  1. energywriter says:

    Oh flashbacks!! Remember most of those situations. Never had to give the operator a local number but did for long distance. My great-grandmother had a phone nook just off the kitchen. The phone was a stand model with dial in the base, a mouth piece a few inches higher and a separate ear piece. Definitely remember party lines. What a pain!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sheila Moss says:

    I’m afraid that cell phones have spoiled us forever.


  3. Sunshinysa says:

    Kids nowadays will never know that thrill we used to have answering that phone.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. lisakunk says:

    I love this trip down memory lane. And the last line is so true.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. drooger says:

    Good story everyone can relate to. Reminded me of a line from a story by Philip Gulley. He described the phone his family had when he was a kid. It was in the kitchen, on the wall, next to the fridge. “It was big, black, and heavy and still worked even when I dropped it on the floor and used it to drive nails.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • Sheila Moss says:

      Yep, that’s exactly what they were like. I remember even pulling the base of table models off and having it crash on the floor. If it broke, what the heck. It belonged to the phone company. You just turned it in a got another.

      Liked by 1 person

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