dale

I had it hard growing up but not as hard as my dad. He used to say he had to walk five miles to school every day — in the snow — in July — uphill both ways. 

It took me a while to decide he was a big joker with forked tongue. 

But really, with all the conveniences of this modern age, women have got it made. Now, don’t get all huffy on me. You don’t know what we old bats had to go through with. Why, I had to walk nine steps across shag carpet just to change channels on the TV. And, we only had three channels and one was the public education channel. That did not count because I ran the risk of learning something and that would never do.

There was nothing invented yet that was called a remote. I was the remote. Dad and Mom just pushed the button (my nose) and I jumped up and changed to the “other” channel. My favorite show was Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. That’s my namesake, by the way. That is — Dale — not Roy. I still get mail addressed to Mr. Dale Lilly. I can’t win for losing. When you get pulled over by a “man in blue” and he says, “Sir, may I see your license?” That’s when I slip in my commitment to honor the police and support them. 

The children of my day did not have cell phones to keep up with their friends and play games on. They did not have Kindles and I-pads. How we survived, I do not know. Now, almost every kid has a cell phone, stereo, TV, game system and a computer in his room. 

The closest I had to electronics in my room was an oscillating fan. And, I was supposed to be grateful for that modern contraption “because there were children in this world who were drowning in their own sweat.” My dad was inventive.

This was a time when we had one of “them new-fangled” plastic thing that you could talk into — and not only that, you could listen to somebody else. This phone was a huge black plastic thingie with a big dial with holes in it. We were in the new phone age so we didn’t know to disdain the fact that we were on a party line. Let me tell you about party lines. 

I am trying to this day to figure out why it was called a party line. There was no party.  It was  local loop telephone circuit that is shared by multiple telephone service subscribers. We had four households on our party line. It was set up so that each of the four phones would have a distinctive ring and if your phone rang but not with your distinctive ring, you weren’t supposed to answer it. 

Can you guess how that worked out? We had a woman on our party line who ran the country store up the road. God bless her, she was in a job where she found everything out about everybody. When a phone showed up in her store, she was literally in heaven. 

Every time the phone rang, regardless of whose ring it was, she picked up and eavesdropped. It infuriated my dad. They had grown up together and were “bitter friends.” He mostly tolerated her and her nosiness. That was — until she picked up the phone on him.  In the back of the house, I could hear him raise his voice three octaves, “Hang up the &^$%^ phone, Jane.” Jane was not her real name. Not gonna name names here.

She was so addicted to phone surveillance on her neighbors that she would be listening in on a conversation and forget herself and break into the conversation with a revelation of her own. That woman could take cussing and go on listening. Didn’t matter to her. She had bread and milk to sell and you weren’t going to go 20 miles to town to get it.

Southern Bell started abolishing party lines in 1971. 

There had been several times when Dad would set his hi-tech Philco radio by the phone and while he was talking, if Jane picked up, he would turn the radio on full blast, lay the receiver on top of it and walk out the door. He also did that to people trying to sell him something.

Although, there are still very remote areas that still have party lines. One example of a community linked by party line is in Big Santa Anita Canyon high in the mountains above Los Angeles, near Sierra Madre, Calif., where 81 cabins, a group camp and a pack station all communicate by magneto-type crank phones. One ring is for the pack station, two rings for the camp and three rings means all cabins pick up. The system is a single wire using the ground as a return path. The line was only partially functioning due to lack of maintenance but as of 2013 rebuilding was underway. In modern use, the term party line has occasionally been used to market conference bridge and voice bulletin board service, but these are not party lines in the original sense of the term as users call in using multiple, individual lines.

DALE LILLY  is Lifestyles Editor and can be contacted at lifestyles@desototimes.com.

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