A Big Phoney

Kids today have no idea what real phones were like. I do. And I miss them.

I still have a hard time comprehending how I can talk to someone on a phone that isn’t attached to the kitchen wall. On a phone that was harvest gold, avocado green, or in my family’s case, lemon yellow.

And phones used to have weight to them. Especially the ones at our older relatives homes. The handsets could have been used to prop up a Buick during an oil change, or for personal defense.

They were solid.

Nowadays, if you drop a phone, instead of it causing a tremor by dislodging the earth’s tectonic plates, the screen cracks and you have to pop into a strip mall and have a guy who looks like he lives out of his car replace the screen.

It’s important to note that unlike today, not everyone used to have a phone. When I say not everyone, I mean not every family had a phone. There were actual houses that did not have a telephone.

Mine was one of them. My parents didn’t get a telephone until I was in elementary school in Ashdown, Arkansas. And you know what? We lived through it.

If there was an emergency, a kind neighbor was always willing to take a call and come get one of my parents to use their phone. Relatives only called for us on a neighbor’s phone if it was a truly bad situation. Usually, someone had passed away. No one ever called just to shoot the breeze.

Back when folks knew their neighbors and took care of each other, people who had a phone seemed fine with sharing.

Today, I see kids, literally children, walking around with an iPhone that costs twice as much as my first car. I don’t question how parents spend their money or raise their kids, but I do have to wonder how someone who can’t remember where they left their lunchbox can be trusted with a device that houses tons of private, personal data.

When I was growing up, kids were rarely allowed to even use the phone. Most often it was when our grandparents called to wish us happy birthday or Merry Christmas.

When we did get a telephone in our house on Beech Street, it was an event. My mom called everyone she knew who also had a phone to give them our number.

2446. That was our number. Not an area code, then a prefix, then 2446. Just 2446. That was all you had to dial (yes, dial, not punch buttons) to call the Moore residence.

Prior to that, I remember family members saying they’d have to call an operator and tell them what number to call for them.

“Hello, operator? Would you please connect me to Richmond 5,000? Yes, I’ll hold.”

Even Andy Griffith had to make his calls that way, and he even had a TV show.

When I told my kids that you used to only have to dial four numbers to call someone else in town, they looked at me as if I was Methuselah.

I explained to them that I was so old that when I was a kid, the Dead Sea was just sick.

There are certain aspects of phones that young people have no experience with. For example, a dial tone.

You used to pick up a handset on a phone and listen for a dial tone before you made a call. A dial tone was the green light before you stuck your finger in the right hole number and starting turning the dial. Hence the name: dial tone.

Young folks also have zero experience with a busy signal. Not so long ago, if someone was on the phone, you couldn’t leave them a message. You had to hang up, wait for a dial tone, and try and call them again later.

Today, you can be on the phone and messages can stack up on you, requiring you to have to listen to them when you get off of the call you were on. Then, you call the person back and they repeat the same thing they said in their message.

Some folks now are so nice that after they leave you a voicemail, they text you and tell you they left you a voicemail. All while you’re still on the phone talking. Or on the phone listening to the message before theirs that someone else left and then texted you to tell you they’d also left you a message.

We disconnected our landline a couple of years ago. My wife and I were one of the last holdouts to still have one. I felt as if I’d literally cut the cord with my past.

I called my mom to tell her what what we’d done. She was on the phone, so I left her a message. I also texted her.


©2023 John Moore

John’s books, Puns for Groan People and Write of Passage: A Southerner’s View of Then and Now Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, are available on his website – TheCountryWriter.com, where you can also send him a message and hear his weekly podcast.

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