I still recall 748R, our home telephone number back when we had party lines, a number I memorized at about age 4. That was a time when the phone exchanges were growing. Party lines were predominant in our town for some time. Mom knew the folks on our line and sometimes they would just talk, to each other, if a conversation was in process whoever picked up felt free to chime in or to ask for the line to make a call. This photo from 1975 is of the last party line telephone operator in Minnesota. Wow, I thought they were long gone by then but this was in Cotton, a rural northern part of MN, beyond Duluth near the Iron Mountain Range.
|1975 January Miss Gellerstedt|
That reminds me me of a passage in Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon Days, ( a Minnesotta writer) in which he writes about a former switchboard operator for whom it seems Sigrid Gellerstedt could have been a model. Here are a few lines: "The pantry off her kitchen holds the old switchboard, still in good condition, and also the steel cabinet with the switching equipment that took over from it when they went to dial telephones in 1960. … If someone doesn’t answer their phone by the fifth ring, she does, and usually she knows where they went and when they’re expected. … If you do reach her instead of your party – say, your mother – she may clue you in on things your mom would never tell you, about your mom’s bad back, a little fall on the steps the week before, or the approach of Mother’s Day, or the fact that when you were born you were shown off like you were the Prince of Wales"
I close with "Party Line" written by Coleman Lee Williams, late father of our friend, Tom who graciously shared many of Coleman's works. Can you see the women talking....
Hello! What are you doing today?
Well, I just called up to say ---
What's that? She DID? How'd you hear?
No! Wait, this line's not very clear.
Did you say she ---? That's what I thought.
Well, that's the first she ever bought!
What time was that? I mustn't forget;
Hold it 'til I get a cigarette.
Why, they were here until after eight.
Well, gossip's one thing I simply hate,
But I told her more than a thing or two.
O - Oh! Someone on the line, or was it you?
Of course! I know just how you feel,
(Quit clickin' this phone, you lousy heel!)
No, not you, but the way some act,
It's a pity they don't use a little tact!
I'd like to see it. How's it made?
But where did you put the rick-rack braid?
Bet it's cute. I'd like to see her in it;
Oh! Before I forget, have you tried Pinit?
No, I didn't. Never said a word.
Well, that's not the first, so I've heard.
That's what I say --- like an open page,
It's a wonder she wouldn't act her age!
Well, just thought I'd give you a buzz;
Wish I knew who that guy was,
Didn't you hear him try the line?
Yeah, been doin' it since almost nine!
Where were we? Oh, now I remember,
Didn't you hear? Nine, next November!
I thought so last week on the street.
Yeah, everybody thought her so stinkin' sweet.
You don't mean -- ? That awful clown!
Well, I did hear he left town.
You know that other, -- yeah, skinny legs,
Looked like a dog caught suckin' eggs.
Did you see --- Oh! That makes me mad!
If that guy needs the phone so bad
Looks like he'd get another line,
I pay this bill so this one's mine!
I guess that'll hold HIM, -- now, where was I?
Oh, if you're gonna be home, I'll drop by;
If there's any one thing that'll make me balk
It's some guy cuttin' in when I wanta talk!
Bye, see you in a few minutes! Written by: Coleman Lee Williams 4/28/1900 - 5/5/1988
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