As a child growing up on the outskirts of Springfield (population 1,000 in those days), my family’s home was blessed with one of technology’s fantastic new gadgets.
This gizmo was the precursor to that phenomenon we know today as “Facebook.” While primitive in comparison, it had many similarities to that online network connecting millions across the globe.
We didn’t realize it back then, of course, but this device was one of the earliest forms of social media, linking friends, neighbors and even strangers. This appliance had to be relatively low-cost because my father worked in those days for less than $125 a week and mama stayed home.
I was too young to be allowed to operate this appliance. Daddy seldom used it and mama was always careful each time she picked it up, afraid she would inadvertently be exposed to some bit of information she shouldn’t.
We had a party line telephone.
Decades ago, party line phones made it convenient for the nosy to eavesdrop on others’ conversations. It was too great a temptation for some not to stick their nose into someone else’s business. Shared phone wires made it easy to hear more than even an unseen, meddlesome, listener sometimes wanted to know. Just like Facebook.
Technology has changed, of course, but there are still many similarities to those days. Back then, about a half-century ago, families like ours already had personalized ring-tones. None of them sounded all jazzy and musical but each was distinctive.
Our ringtone was two longs and a short, meaning the phone would “brrrr-ing!” for two bursts of about two seconds each and then one short burp, alerting mama, and everyone else on the line, someone was calling the Williams household. One of our nearby neighbors had three short rings for their calls and I always envied them such a “cool” little rat-a-tat-tat ringtone. It was short and sweet. Neighbors in the other direction on our section of dirt road had the opposite of our ring: two shorts and a long. Mama could recognize the ring summoning several neighbors up and down a good stretch of Berryville Road. Sometimes, when the phone would erupt with a certain ring during supper, she’d look across at daddy and say: “That’s so-and-so’s number. Reckon her husband’s gonna be late coming home for supper again tonight” ... and then daddy would smile and shake his head. It was years later before I understood the neighbor a few houses away had a “habit” that annoyed his wife: Many afternoons, his car turned in at a dimly-lit establishment at the county line just before crossing into the “dry” county where we lived.
Party line telephones were eventually wiped out, much to the chagrin of some, by the advance of technology. Soon, we even had direct-dial for long-distance calls. It still cost, according to my father, an “arm and a leg” to call as far away as my newlywed sister’s home near Athens. Iremember him prompting mama: “Say what you need to and get on off there, Belle!” I was telling a Yankee friend once about daddy’s pleading and he looked at me with the funniest expression and replied: “How did your father expect your mother to get ‘on’ and ‘off’ at the same time?”
Earlier tonight, I checked my Facebook page and noticed nearly 100 friends were on the “party line.” I “listened in” on a few of the conversations and learned one old friend was having a heart cath the next morning, two more were visiting with family out of state and still another was ... well, it didn’t appear he would make it home for supper on time.
Some things just don’t change.
Robert M. Williams Jr. is an Effingham native and publishes newspapers in Blackshear, Alma, McRae, Folkston and Forsyth. Email: email@example.com.