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!”