When I was a kid, we did not have cell phones or portable phones, and calling long distance was extremely expensive. We had a rotary dial telephone.
What’s a rotary dial telephone, you ask. It’s a phone that had a dial over all the numbers with a hole for each number. To call 234-5678 for example, you would stick you finger in the 2 hole and turn the dial clockwise until it stopped. Then the dial would spin back in place and you would then proceed to do the same step with the 3. It took a long while to just dial a seven digit number.
So, you get the point of how the phone worked. Rotary dial telephones did not have any memory capability at all, so you had to either memorize your friends phone numbers or write them down. My mom had a list of common phone numbers that she called on a piece of paper taped on the wall next to the phone.
When I was 5 years old, my mom taught me to dial the phone using the first number on her list which was my grandparents’ number. I knew my numbers at this point, so she knew if there were any problems with my brother who was a very sick child that she could count on me to call for help.
Please note that there was no such thing as 911 either. If you needed an ambulance, you had to call the operator, hospital, police, or fire department for assistance. Those numbers were on mom’s notepad as well. Also, there was no digital display for the emergency personnel to know where you were calling from, so you had to be able to give them your address and maybe even give some directions on how to get to your house.
All of these were skills that as kids, we were taught by our parents, family, and nursery school if you were lucky enough to attend one. The nursery school that I attended even gave a grade out for being able to write your name, address, and phone number.
So, there I was 5 years with the knowledge of how to use a telephone. I decided to play with the telephone like it was a toy and just started to randomly dial numbers. I knew better, but I really liked dialing the telephone. Believe it or not, listening to the clicks was fun…I liked 9s the best because it took awhile for the dial to get back around. 🙂
All of a sudden there was a voice on the other end that sounded funny. I don’t remember exactly what he said, but it was in English and basically it was a Hello and who is this type of question. Well, I knew that answer because I had been taught the answers. I told him my address and phone number. He just started in conversing with me and learned all about me and my family through our conversation.
Well, mom came to check on me, and heard me talking out loud to someone, but there was no one else other than my little brother in the house and he was with mom. She came in the room and saw that I was on the phone. Thinking that I had simply dialed my grandparents, she wasn’t too worried until she asked to speak to Grandma. Of which I responded with, “I’m not talking to Grandma.” She said, “Well your Grandpa then.” Of course I said again, “I’m not talking to Grandpa.”
At this point she took the phone from my hands and politely asked who the person on the other end was. It wound up being some kind gentleman from Ireland who had received a phone call from the nice, young lady. My mom thanked him for being so kind to me, and said goodbye.
Now I was in for it. Remember what I said above that long distance was really expensive…well, calling internationally was extremely expensive. With the medical bills that my brother had, we had no extra money to pay for a call to Ireland and mom had no idea how long I had been on the phone.
Mom and I had a discussion that involved my not touching the phone unless asked to. And then the dreaded, “We’ll have to tell your father about this when he gets home.” line was stated.
Mom lost her zeal though by that time. When dad got home and we were at the dinner table she said offhandedly “You’ll never guess who your daughter called today.”, and then she launched into the story. My Dad was laughing by the time she was finished, so I knew that I wasn’t going to be spanked (yes, back then kids were whipped when punished) for it. I was however very sternly warned to never do that again and to only call the numbers on mom’s list when asked to.
Today parents have to deal with text message rates and cell phone minutes to deal with, but back then it was long distance minutes on what is now called a POTs (Plain Old Telephone) phone that could get you into trouble. 🙂