This is one of my mother’s many stories: No one had a private telephone number when I was a little girl. Telephone calls were made on party lines. Other people on the line were able to hear your conversations if they wanted to. The telephone was not used to sit and gab about anything you didn’t want to be repeated. There were three other people on our line. 219 ring 1, 11, 111 or 1111. You would know the call was for you by how many times it rang at the end. You could only hope the other three homes on the 219 exchange would not listen in, but you couldn’t stop them But some people had reputations for being a “nosy parker” and your private conversation might be gossiped all over the neighborhood. As gossip flies the story usually takes on a life of it’s own.
In the 1930’s our house was the first house in S.Walpole, Mass to have a phone. It was called a candlestick phone. It had a rod on a base and the part to go to your ear held the receiver down. When the ear piece is lifted it opened the line to dial. The first phones, though, had no dial with numbers. You flicked up and down the metal the ear piece hung which signaled the phone operator you needed to be connected to someone. Every time the phone rang we jumped because it rang so seldom. We would wonder who could it possibly be?
There was a woman who lived near us – she was actually the only heavyset person I knew because being overweight was not the norm. This woman would come over and ask to use our phone. I would sit and listen to hear because she would gossip and spent a long time talking. We never used the phone unless it was a necessary. It was not used for calling and gossiping about other people.
Being a switchboard operator was one type of job a woman was able to do that was acceptable as she wasn’t welcome in a man’s world, or thought intelligent enough to have the business sense of a man. Unfortunately, women are still having to fight to be treated equally. Could that possibly be the older male ego that doesn’t like to relinquish the top dog position? I think the generations that came after have gotten past the “honey” and “sweetie” names a boss used to keep women in their place.
This conversation came up today as we drank our morning cup of coffee. My mother and I can talk for hours. At age 83, she is recuperating from a stroke. I moved in with her a month ago as she is becoming stronger with in home therapists. We decided to make memory recordings. She has such wonderful stories, many of them from generations I never had a chance to spend time with. When her life is over the stories will be gone. Many of her stories I have heard over and over and have enjoyed every telling. I realized, years from now I wouldn’t be able to hear them again. I knew the stories, but I wouldn’t hear her voice and neither would anyone else.
She was raised during the depression by her grandmother who had a job for the war effort operating a drill press. My mother’s grandfather died young of a heart attack leaving his wife with no means to care for herself or their granddaughter they had custody of since she was only a little older than a toddler. My great-grandmother knew, you do what you have to do. Born in 1890 she had only been a homemaker who had never had a job outside the home. She had to find a way to care for my mother. She herself had heart problems and her doctor told her she probably wouldn’t live past another five years. The determination and will to live affects many things. She knew she had to raise my mother. When my mother married she moved into their new home and lived with us until she passed away when I was 14. She was very old-school when it came to discipline. Children today could use some of that discipline!
One of the effects of the stroke my mother had was how it has affected her memory. It wasn’t as obvious at first, but chunks of memory were missing; not in any order, just holes of missing time, like Swiss cheese. Fortunately many of the holes were of things she would rather not remember. I realized that it was important for every one; my children and grandchildren to be able to hear her voice telling her stories. How many times have we looked at photographs of people in our past and have to look at the back of the picture to find out who the people were. We might realize then who the people were but we know nothing about their lives. My mother and her stories are worth hearing.
I have been asked by current family members, “Why do you have to put your life “out there” for the world to read? For no other reason than it is my life and my choice. In a way it is documenting that I existed. So, in my way I am preserving the life and the memories of my mother.
Oh! the phone is ringing. 219 ring 1-1