Jo-Ann Boepple: If only Alexander Graham Bell could see us now

Published 7:19 pm Monday, April 11, 2011

Someone asked me, after I wrote about cell phones, if they had phones when I was a little girl? That’s just like someone, grandchildren, asking if they had cars when I was little or did we get around by horse and buggy?

boeppleWell the house I lived in as a little girl did have a telephone. And no it was not a tin can and string. We had a candlestick telephone.

“What was a candlestick telephone,” you ask? It was a long, slender pole with a dial at the base and a hook on the side for the receiver to hang. The mouth piece was at the top and shaped like a daffodil. That’s what I thought it looked like.

It was probably where the term “off the hook” came from because when you “hung up” you placed the receiver on the hook on the side. A bell hung on the wall so that when the phone rang it was the bell on the wall that let you know you had a call.

When we moved to Edwardsburg we had a wooden wall phone with a crank. Turning the crank connected you with the operator, who placed your call. In that phone, the ringer bell was inside the phone.

When my husband and I built our home we had it wired for a wall phone in our dining room. Someone was always calling when we were eating. It was a much smaller black phone. We still use it in our basement.

We had only one phone and four teenagers who shared the same phone. They couldn’t be on the phone long because dad might get a fire call. When he became a fireman, we had an extension put in our bedroom so that he could take fire calls during the night.

Later, we built an addition to our house and put an extension in the addition by our back door so that when we were outside we could get to the phone easily. We also had an outside ringer installed so we could hear the phone, the neighbors could too when we were in the yard.

When computers came along we had a second line installed for the computer. And as we grew older we had a set of cordless phones added to the mix and placed beside our chairs so that we don’t have to get up to answer the phone. With caller ID the name of the caller is flashed on the TV screen so that we know ahead of time who is calling.

Then along came the cell phones. That caused a problem. My husband is not interested in using the cell phone. When I show him how to use it, he forgets by the time he uses it again. So I carry the cell phone in my purse when I can remember to take it off the charger. I’m not one of those people who has made the cell phone an extension of my arm.

In fact, many of my friends do not have cell phones. They don’t want one. If they had one they wouldn’t use it. Not so with my children and grandchildren. Their phones are are part of their bodies. They have to talk to someone all the time.

Speaking of talking to someone, before direct dial came along when there was just a dial, no push buttons, it was necessary to call the long distance operator, dialing “0” and tell her the out-of-town number you wished to call. She would then place the call for you and tell you when you were connected.

The operator kept track of the length of the call and marked by hand on a card so that you would be billed for the minutes you talked.

In 1951 some cities added an area code and a seven-digit number to their local customers, which gave them the opportunity to dial their own long-distance number to other cities who had an area code and seven digit numbers.

Now with Skype, a computer and some cell phones you can see the person you are calling. What’s next? All of these changes took place in one lifetime. I can’t imagine what’s ahead.