Carolyn White: Living the Good Life 1-9-12
January 9, 2012
My boss and I were standing at the pharmacy window the other day when two teen-aged girls slowly walked by, each holding a cell phone. Thumbs flying, they were intently – and silently – sending text messages to other people. Waiting until they’d passed, I remarked, “If that had been me with one of my high school friends, we’d have been gabbing to each other.”
He shrugged. “I know. It’s just the way things are these days.” It doesn’t mean we have to like it, though.
During her visit to Colorado in 2007, childhood pal Debbie headed straight for the black, 1950s dial phone that sat in my office. “Oooohhhhhh! I loved this thing!” she exclaimed, grabbing for the receiver and leaning forward to accommodate the three foot cord. “Would you leave it for me in your Will? I’m serious! Wow, it makes me feel 14 again!”
“Yup, that’s why I keep it – I love the memories,” I said fondly. “Mom had three of those relics stored in the basement, and last time I was home I grabbed this one.”
“Does it still work?” Debbie asked.
“Oh, no, they’re obsolete, but …” I hefted the entire unit “… since it weighs about 5 pounds, we might be able to conk a burglar over the head.”
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We both giggled, and although my office has been moved several times since that sunny afternoon the phone has remained on display.
Debbie, Missy, Leigh, Chrissy, Mindy and I will forever be linked by those long-winded, often silly and gossipy, and sometimes tearful conversations that we shared over our standard, plug-in telephones. Curled up on an armchair, couch or bed we would talk for hours on end about every topic under the sun – at least until an impatient sibling eventually picked up an extension and demanded a turn. (Or a parent peeked in to warn us that it was bedtime.) Martha, who lived “off the grid” back in the 60s, was the only exception since she was hooked to a party line. “Be careful what you say,” she warned me the first time I used it. “Other people will be able to hear you.” Sure enough, there were two voices on the line when I lifted the receiver. It was both shocking and fascinating.
Missy’s family had a sky-blue, push button version in their kitchen, but she told me (after I’d asked for some info to put in this column) that her “Mom had several bone-colored, banana-shaped, identical phones throughout the house,” adding with a chuckle, “you know how she is … gotta match.” Leigh recalled a “putty-colored, table model that sat on four tiny feet, with push buttons on a slanted face.”
Chrissy’s black, wall-mounted phone had a cord that was so long it could stretch from the kitchen to the living room. (Her mom, Camille, would lift it up each time one of us ran by. She talked more than Chrissy did, accessorized with a cup of black coffee and a pack of Pall Malls.) But neighbor Lori’s mom had the first “Princess” version, an irresistible blend of cream, gold, blue, pink and yellow. It even came with a special dialing tool so that she wouldn’t break her fingernails!
The sound of a ringing phone had the power to make each of us drop whatever she was doing and run, and it continued even after we’d graduated and moved off in different directions. Mindy and I, in fact, spoke nearly every evening for two years after getting our first apartments. More than once, upon hearing that shrill, tinny bbrrrriiiinnng while at the door after work, I’d drop my keys and practically fall into the kitchen while lunging to answer. Both of us had sleek (for the early 80s) dark green models by then, and the cord on mine stretched just far enough to allow a comfortable seat next to the propane stove. But as the electronic age pushed in around us … and we kept getting busier and busier with our lives … suddenly, all those conversations got condensed down to just a few, short paragraphs every now and then. I’ve never gotten used to it.
That’s why in the midst of e-mailing with Mindy last Saturday, it was such a delight when my phone suddenly rang. “Hi ya!” came her cheerful voice from the other end. “I figured that this would be better.” Next thing I knew we were gabbing like little girls. The subject matter was a bit different – jobs, kids, husbands, weight gain and grays – but the affection remained clear. Best of all, we were wiping tears of laughter from our eyes before we’d finished, something that only real, human voices can cause each of us to do.
* Note to readers: Sorry this was a week late. My computer crashed. Perfect timing, huh?