THE RING DOWN EXCHANGE

I did not mention that besides the 13 rooms and the piano, there was another distinct advantage to moving to the farm.  There, on the wall, hung my line to the outside world…a telephone! An honest-to-goodness telephone!! The luxury my father refused to have in the house was now part of my new life.  I could not wait to test the waters..there was a little thing connected to the main part of the telephone for me to put to my ear and the crank on the right side. If you look past me in the photo among the ugly wallpaper, you will see our first phone.

I soon learned it was a “party line” and I was to only answer if the phone rang three long rings followed by two short.  It was a common occurrence to be in the middle of a conversation, only to hear someone pick up the phone and put it back down. This was the cue to finish up and let the next in line make his call!

It can be noted that some people picked up the phone to “listen in” and get what might be the latest news on the Hill. No one took umbrage as long as the person kept the heavy breathing down while listening.

The phone might have been primitive, but it was magic. When two year old Brian fainted outside on a hot June day and hit his head on cement, I did the magic crank that got my neighbor, Winnie Hanscom, on the line. She, in turn, called Dr. Nangle in West Paris to alert that we were on our way. We raced into her yard where she was waiting to take Debbie and Gary, and we were on our way. Dr. Nangle took one look, called Norway Hospital. To make a long story short, Brian was a resident there for three days and recovered.

Over the years, the phone was replaced with an updated model, but hung in the same place with the same magic.  My friend and I returned to the farm one day after taking Alan to have stitches taken out of his foot. As we entered the farm door, Debbie stepped on a scythe and cut her bare foot to the bone. OK!! What was a scythe doing there? I  have no clue, but it happened. A dash to the phone to ask the doctor in Bethel to hang on for a few minutes while my friend took Debbie back to have stitches put in her foot. Never a dull moment. I am at home consoling one whose stitches were just removed and the oldest is getting stitches inside and outside her foot.  Is there no end to farm fun??

But as much magic as the phone on the wall provided, it had its downside too. It was not the fault of the phone.  My second son, third child, was not to be trusted. It was not that he was a bad child. He was curious; his imagination knew no boundaries whatsoever.

It was a summer day. I was in the yard trying to weed a few flowers which had miraculously escaped being eaten by bovines. An uneasy feeling swept through me ; go in the house, something kept whispering in my ear. I went; there standing on a chair, was Gary having a full conversation with Evelyn Farnum, the lovely phone operator downtown. I gasped, grabbed the phone, apologized to Evelyn, who was laughing. Apparently it had been quite the conversation and I didn’t dare ask how long he had been talking. Suffice it to say, it did not happen again.

This is the same child who called to me when I was hoeing potatoes. I looked up and he sat on the window sill on the second floor with his feet dangling down the side of the house.  I cannot recall my heart being up in my throat as far as it was in that moment. Talking on the phone with a complete stranger was one thing; dangling from a second story window another. I looked up, kept talking, sneaked through the downstairs rooms, up the stairs, came up behind him, grabbed him and hauled him back through the window.

I gathered the news each week for the paper on that old phone and as my writing increased, the Hathaway crew provided me with a small phone to put on my desk and actually painted it orange to match the brown and orange decor..if it could be called decor. It was a “woman-cave” as opposed to the now popular “man cave”. What a great bunch the phone crew were!

Once more the phone came into play in regard to the third child. On his 14th birthday, I was on assignment in Harrisburg, Pa. traveling to Nashville. I really wanted to call and talk to him.

“Operator I want to call Bryant Pond Maine 123.”

“You want what?”

“It’s a ring down exchange. Just get the operator in Bryant Pond, Maine, and tell her the number 123.”

This conversation probably took fifteen minutes and finally I heard the familiar voice of the Bryant Pond operator and within seconds had Gary on the line.

I don’t think he knew what a hassle it was until, while in college, he tried to call home from a dig in Northern Italy. In the end, he opted to call me in upstate New York and we made the trip to Maine to deliver his message.

After the ring down exchange closed, many sought the phones to keep as a memento of a much simpler time. I have warm thoughts in my heart for that old crank telephone that brought neighbors close together in good times and hard times.

If I remember correctly, there were no telemarketers, no politicians and no charities on the other end when it rang. That, in itself, makes up for being on a “party line!”

 

 

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A Little Happy Story

It was a long time ago..well, not back in the caveman days…I’m not that old, but shall we say about 38 years ago when I was much younger, much more agile and getting up much earlier in the morning.  The world was my oyster and I woke up each morning searching for the pearl.

We lived in what I refer to as “our little house”.  Each morning I eagerly awaited the delivery of our daily paper. Our paper boy lived down in Fenimore and he delivered on time, religiously, in fair and foul weather.

I watched him as he plowed through the snow, a short, chunky kid with bright eyes above his cheeks which were red from the cold. One morning, I thought about my own three sons and if they were delivering papers, how cold they would be…and I was the last customer on his route.

So it began. Each morning, I made a cup of hot chocolate in a Styrofoam cup and put it in the paper box. I pictured how pleased he would be to have something warm after walking his route and it would carry him back home until he could warm up again. I don’t know how long I did this during the winter months and to tell the truth, I had almost forgotten about it over the years.

Today I received a message that my paper boy was in the vicinity and wanted to stop in and say hello.  Since I have Rheumatoid Arthritis, with the drugs giving me a pumpkin face and taking a lot of my hair, I had reservations about anyone seeing me I hadn’t seen in a long time. But what the heck~~

The knock came on the door and he stood at the top of my stairs with a huge bouquet of flowers in his hand. I was stunned and he said…”this is for all the hot chocolate you gave me.”

I have to admit I have never been as touched to think that this man, standing before me, remembered those cups of hot chocolate all those many years ago. 

It really was something I would have wished for someone to do for my sons had they been out in the cold, but it meant so much more to him that he remembered all these years.

Thank you, Larry Bulman, for giving me a day that has made me forget some of the obstacles of the past two years.  You will never know how much it means to me!

Dawn’s Early Light/of Gardens and Cows

It had only been six years since we pulled into the front yard of the old farm and marveled at all the space we had…inside and out. The 13 rooms grew smaller as each baby arrived and the outside was , to me, getting a bit suspicious as I watched the animals arrive…almost two by two and this was not Noah’s Ark. Fences were erected to keep the beasts ( aka cows) in, but to no avail.  Many the times I hung diapers on the clothesline, while having a one sided conversation with a bovine  as the six o’clock whistle blew in Locke Mills. I said then and I will say now, there is not a word existing that can describe a cow’s eyes. I referred to them as dull, dumb and sneaky. If there is one small hole in a mile long fence, a cow will find it, wander aimlessly down the long driveway, cut a right hand turn and find the neighbor’s corn patch. This would happen only after said cow had devoured our own corn.

Therein lies another adventure… gardening for the first time on our little patch of real estate. Intentions were great; we would have fresh produce and healthy kids. I immediately thought of my mother-in-law’s fresh peas and new potatoes. They were a must for the new garden. I spent an evening cutting up potatoes so each would have an eye and soon they were in an even row on the side garden, along with peas which would surely rise out of the earth and immediately be strung on string of some kind to reach the sky!  Tomatoes and cukes had to go in the earth; a staple in any farm household. Corn on the cob!  Anything better than that with butter running down the chin? I think not.

The potatoes were hilled throughout the growing season; peas came up and were dangling in the air. Cukes were hidden in their vines; tomatoes up and bearing heavily…and the corn was showing silk. What farmers we turned out to be!

I couldn’t help myself when I saw the peas ready to pick and unearthed a couple hills of potatoes. Oh, yeah, small but perfect. After the sun dried them well, into the house and the meal we awaited came to fruition.  This was our first triumph and almost the last.

An unexpected and unusual hail storm hit mid-way growing season and flattened the tomatoes, but for a few hardy plants who stood up to Mother Nature. Cukes had some holes in them, which turned to rot in a hurry, so we ate them in every manner imaginable. Sandwiches with gobs of mayonnaise, cut up with vinegar,salt and pepper…name it. No I did not make pickles..the cukes were too big at that point.

But we still had our corn!! Or did we?  One early morn en route to milking the cows, the husband took a quick look at the garden. Nothing. Zilch. No corn waving in the early dawn. Instead  a beaten path as if a front loader had passed through in the night. Corn silk enough to fill a mattress; no real honest to goodness corn left. However, the front loader had left revealing evidence..cow tracks right down the row interspersed with a cow patty here and there. Rage overtook the husband and multiplied ten fold when the neighbor called to inform me that the bovine were now in his garden devouring his hard work.

Suffice it to say, it was some time before the husband got his prize herd into the barn for the milking, all the while trying to attempt a peace agreement with the neighbor. That is why I hate cows.

While all this is going on, the four kids argued in the kitchen who was going to eat which cereal and who was “hogging” the good stuff, leaving only the “healthy” stuff for this one and that one. If it had been a school month, they would all have still been in bed, but obviously some of the “cow rage” had crept through their bedroom windows and they wanted a part of it. This is called farmer’s excitement.

The husband returned finally with a pail of milk; kids contented with whatever grain they had poured in their respective dishes and finally on to the rest of the day with no drama, hopefully. I looked at the clock and it was 7 a.m. and once again, I wondered why I was so thrilled when I saw 13 rooms and a piano.

I am not entirely a failure. Remember those few hardy tomato plants that survived the hail storm? I brought in the green tomatoes and searched for my Rebekkah cook book. Ah ha! Green tomato pickles. I layered onions, seasonings, tomatoes in a crock overnight …the next day it simmered on my Sears Roebuck stove and the whole house smelled heavenly. I am not saying that the entire household loved those pickles, but I had many a meal of just a bowl of pickles and bread and butter.

I would give anything to have a bowl right now. Just saying.

 

 

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