Butch Gets A New Phone In 1958 !!!!
Except for a few diehard holdouts, just about everyone has a cell phone today. Teenagers consider their cell phones absolute necessities. Many parents even purchase phones for their elementary school age kids. I resisted as long as I could, but when my wife decided to buy her first iPhone a few years ago, she gave me her old flip phone. The flip phone is much smaller and fits easily in my front pocket. I don’t use it for anything other than calling…no financial transactions, ordering, etc., so when unidentified cyber criminals call, I can answer, wait a few seconds, and cancel the call. They can’t obtain any information from my phone…because there is NO information to be had. Most of the time, if I don’t recognize the number, I just don’t answer.
When I was a youngster, our family had an oak crank-type phone, which hung on the wall in the living room. Sounds ancient, doesn’t it? We were on an 8-party line, so seven of our neighbors shared access. We counted the number of rings before we answered to make sure the call was intended for us. The Dale family was 2-1/2 rings, so occasionally we mistakenly answered calls. To call someone, we cranked the handle to connect to the Darlington Phone Company, which was located in the upstairs room of a house on Main street. Operators manned the switchboard 24 hours a day, and they plugged in your line to the recipient’s line. The telephone operators knew everything that was going on in the Darlington area, as they could listen in to all conversations if they so desired! Of course, we could also listen in on our neighbors’ conversations…by gentling lifting the receiver and being very quiet. We knew darn well they listened to us, too! I remember one occasion when my little brother wanted to call his best friend, and a neighbor lady was gabbing on the line on and on and on…so he lifted up the receiver, and yelled, “Get off the phone, you old ******,” and hung up!
When I was in the 4th grade in 1958, everyone in the community received brand spanking new rotary dial phones, and the old oak wall phones became a thing of the past. The next morning at school, my classmates asked each other for their new phone numbers. I couldn’t remember our number, so I just told them, “It starts with SWIFT and has a lot of 4’s in it.” (S=7, W=9) 4-854…”WOW, that’s neat!” they exclaimed. The good part is that our neighbors could no longer listen to our conversations. The bad part is that we could not listen in on their conversations either!
My brothers and sisters and I were constantly on the phone talking to our friends. We also learned how to prank people…”Hello, could you tell me if your refrigerator is running?”…”Yes”…”Well, you’d better try to catch it!” “Do you have Prince Albert in a can?”…”Yes”…”Well, you’d better let him out, he might suffocate!”…”Hello, is John there?”…”No.”…”Well, where do you go…in the sink?”….and many other stupid calls.
From rotary phones we proceeded to touch phones…and now cell phones. Like it or not, today we are 100% connected 24 hours a day…by calls and texts. My wife receives at least 50-60 calls or texts every day. I receive only three or four legitimate texts and calls…and nine or ten “fraud” calls on average. We inherited my wife’s grandmother’s oak wall phone several years ago, and it hangs on the wall in our living room. Just a reminder of times past. There are many times when I wish that was the only phone we owned. At my age, I would be very content to be totally disconnected…
– John “Butch” Dale is a retired teacher and County Sheriff. He has also been the librarian at Darlington the past 32 years, and is a well-known artist and author of local history.