Thursday, November 6, 2014

Our Family Museum Collections from A to Z - "C" for Cell Phones

Wait a minute! Hold on a sec! In going with the flow, writing about the “C” things in our Family Museum, telephones, more so telegraphs, came before the venerable C for Cell Phone. So let’s begin there . . . 
Remember the first telephone you used? Back in 1950, my family lived in South Chicago on the second floor of a 3-story building that my mother’s family owned. There was only one phone and it was in the living room. Like pictured here, I recall it being black, quite heavy and rang very loud, however, it did not ring that much.

The telephone back then was not a product for socialization as it is now. Incoming call conversations were short because it was expensive. Same with making phone calls. Maybe it was different in your home, but the phone was regarded as a tool, albeit convenient, but not to be taken advantage of. Call a friend? You have got to be kidding! Instead, you walked to their house, knocked on the door and asked if Suzy or Johnny could play. But if it was getting late or a little too dark, your friend’s mom would call your mother to let her know you were on your way back home. God forbid if you didn’t get back home in the time stated. But that was then and now, well, a phone call is almost passé, with texting, emailing and such.

Some things I miss about the old phones are these: the ring. Why was it that you were never near the phone when it rang? When it did, you had to drop what you were doing, run to where the phone was located, which was either down the hall or in another room, and of course, the ring got louder the nearer you go to it.
I miss picking up the weighty handset, feeling the ear part snuggle your ear and the speaker copious enough to talk into and better yet, you could cover it with your hand when you didn’t want the person on the other end to hear something. And how you could cradle the headset by lifting your shoulder securing the phone a bit so you can free up your hand to do other things like fold laundry, diaper a baby, or cut vegetables. And those long spiral telephone cords, the longer the better. You could carry the phone almost into another room, or take the phone with you inside a closet so you could have some privacy. Most of all, banging the headset back onto the phone when you got angry at your caller. It felt good to get that aggression out and somehow, it didn’t hurt the phone at all. And the dial.
Clickity-click, around and around the dial went, as you waited patiently. Never a good thing when you needed to make a call quickly. The connection. Remember being polite? Hello? May I speak to Paula, Mrs. Smoot? Thank you. You waited. She will be right with you. You replied again with Thank you. Then I could hear Paula’s mother say, not too long, Paula. And she would reply, Yes, mother. Finally, our conversation began with excitement about whatever it was that made the phone call necessary. When it came to talking to the boy who stole your heart, now that is a different story. Ring, ring. Get the phone Liz and if it is that Frank calling again, don’t talk long. Remember, you have homework to do. Running to the phone, picking it up and whispering, hold on Frank. I want to close the kitchen door. Back on line, we talked, and talked, and talked. Time slipped away until the kitchen door open and my mother’s shrill voice said, Get off the phone, now! Those were the days.  
Telephone operators and answering services. In bygone days, a telephone operator would come on the line and connect you to your party, or a secretary that would put you through or take a message. I did both. The first job I had was working for an insurance company. I was fresh out of high school, memo pad and pen in hand, and not an inkling as what to expect. I can still picture that dismal office. Three desks, reception counter, and the ever-imposing Switchboard!
OMG! The only time I saw one of these contraptions was in the movies. Of course all the operators were pretty and smiling, but were they really happy staring at colored cords going in many directions, talking to people they didn’t know, getting fired because they dropped a call or worse yet, connected one party to the wrong party! Not really, but it was a job. When I started mine I had to be trained on the switchboard. My teacher was the office manager and I recall her as being rather homely but smart as a whip. I don’t think she liked me much because all the guys in the office did. I couldn’t help it if I was cute! Anyway, I got the hang of it. After working there for several months, I got my own
desk and assigned to a telephone with call-waiting buttons and one insurance agent that dictated a lot of letters to me that I had to type, not to mention filing, organizing, making coffee, getting sandwiches and sometimes missing the train because I had to stay at the office until the work done. Then I got fired! Oh well, C’est la vie.
During my pre-teen and teen years, my family had only two phones in a very large house. One, like this beige phone, was in the kitchen. The other was like this blue Princess phone in my parent’s bedroom. No phone in the living room or in the other bedroom. When the phone rang, you literally ran for it.  

When I got married and my husband and I had our own home, we had three phones: kitchen, den & master bedroom. This red push-button phone traveled with us through three homes: Illinois, Florida and Virginia. We still have it but no longer the land-line required to operate it. Now we all have cell phones.

There were thousands of models of cell phones that hit the streets between 1983 and now. My husband was the first in the family to get a pager, not a cellphone. He would strap the dang thing unto this belt and cover it up with his jacket. When it would buzz, he would check out who was calling and then had to fine a phone, and in many cases, a payphone (which are almost extinct today) and return the
call. Next came a Fax Machine. Another contraption that took us a while to figure out. Then came the word processors before personal computers, and this is an entire subject matter onto itself and I am not going there today. Finally, The Cell Phone. Rather clucky at first and again, it was either tethered to a belt or stuffed in a pocket tat made it bulge. 
 As time went on the cell phones became slimmer and flatter. No more pocket bulge, however, cell phones seem to have become an extension of the hand. Do you notice how people, especially women, consistently hold their cell phones in their hands, never letting it out of their ear or eye sight? I ask you, is this necessary? Why are people so dependent on their phones now? I guess I just don’t get it. So, if you can tell me why, please let me know.
Anyway, to get back to our cell phones that will never be discarded, adding to the unsightly piles that grow every day. Perhaps you ask why do we keep our old cell phones? Because like many things in our Family Museum, these things were at one time useful and they also tell the story of invention, innovation and revolution, along with advancement, improvement and modernism. Can you imagine going back to only one phone in the house? Can you imagine having to wait until you got home or to the office to talk to whomever you need to converse with? The one thing I will admit to about liking the cell phone is the sense of security it gives you when driving. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I was stranded along a highway and had to wait for a policeman or some kind Samaritan to stop and offer assistance. 
Keith went through a couple of cellphones before I got my first one. He was rather ingenious as to how he presented it to me, which was as a Christmas present. There we were opening out presents when he got up and left the room. Then all of a sudden, we heard a telephone ringing, but it wasn't the house phones. Then Keith came back into the room holding his cellphone and pointing to the package where the ringing was coming from. Of course I knew instantly what was in the little box . . . my own cell phone! Baby blue and pretty, too.
I had that phone for more years than was expected. I even had the battery replaced twice, however, the second time the clerk at the cellphone store told me that my phone model was obsolete, therefore, no batteries were available. So I had to get a new cellphone. I put a sticker of a tiger on it so I could tell it was mine from the others that looked just it. And once again, we saved both those phones adding to our collection. Now everyone in the family has their own cellphone, which albeit their convenience, we miss our land line and red push-button telephone.  

Next weeks posts will be dedicated to Veteran’s Day and a story about my Dad, a WWII Veteran.

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