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Wednesday, 19 October 2011


By Deb who blogs at Simple Not Easy

I remember vividly trooping up the wide staircase of Robert E. Lee Elementary (Duncan, Oklahoma) at some point in the third grade to watch a film.

You have to remember this was in the early 1950s, when few homes had TV and a film in school was an event. In fact, we'd looked forward to it for a week and had fidgeted and waited impatiently for our turn as other classes marched past our first floor classroom door on their way to see "the movie.”

We were finally settled into the desks in the large third-floor room and the shades were drawn. The lights were dimmed and we were shown how to use the technological marvel of the age through the story of a boy whose puppy had gone missing.

Alas! The boy was an unschooled ninny who did not understand how to use the rotary dial telephone to call the appropriate puppy-seeking authorities. (This Was High Drama! We were as entranced as today's 10-year-old at a Harry Potter premiere.)

To that point, you simply picked up the phone and yelled, "Operator! Give me 21!" - or 723 - as the case might be, or "Stumpie Busby's.” (Everyone knew Stumpie's number; he was the local bootlegger.)

So film star and Puppy Loser stood and fruitlessly shouted, "Operator! Operator!" at the mysterious and previously unheard signal coming from the receiver, the dial tone.

Thankfully, Puppy-Loser's kindly Mr. Rogers-like friend came along and showed him, with great care, how one uses a rotary dial. Place your finger in the hole over the number desired and rotate the dial around until it stops. Release, allow the dial to rotate all the way back to its original position, choose your next number, rotate the dial ALLLLLL the way around until it stops, release, repeat, etc. (Four digits in those days!)

Puppy Loser was told he might get a beeping "busy" signal; otherwise wait for the ringing to begin. Your "party" (we called people we phoned “the party” in those quaint days) will answer the phone. No operator will announce that they are now on the line. You must say, "Hello!" when you pick up a ringing phone and that is what you wait to hear before speaking.

This was breathtaking stuff which prepared the elementary aged school child to go home and show the parents how to use the baffling rotary phones which were being installed in the following weeks. I proudly showed my puzzled parents this new-age marvel myself while my father shook his head in astonishment.

Now, we move 55 years forward. The cable guy hands me a "universal remote" which will supposedly allow me to watch the flat screen, high-def TV on my living room wall and then he makes a hasty retreat. Do I get an informative movie or even a demo on how to use this device with its hundred buttons each of which has four dozen functions?

No, I get a 75-page instruction book which tells me (supposedly) somewhere how to turn on the &^*% TV - but doesn't.

I hold it up and shout, “Operator! Operator!” at it. Nothing. The TV stays dark. It's 2011. The operators have all gone home.

I want to go back to third grade.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Great trip backwards, Deborah!!
I long for the good old days at times, but then I enjoy all the new stuff that I can figure out.
You dont suppose our brains are getting old, do you? It is easier to put down what I don't understand than try to learn something new. Good job.

A humorous look back at simpler times. Now I have a phone that flashes closed captions on the screen that enables me to know what the other party is saying.

While there is muuch to miss in the days of yore, there is much to enjoy in today's marvels.

The thing I miss most is the voice of a real person when you call a business. I hate the menus with a passion.

I feel your pain, but I loved and laughed at your story.

When we signed up for cable TV and DVR the guy came and gave us a "clicker" that controlled over 300 stations and God knows how many "On Demand" movies etc.

I asked him for the manual and he told me he didn't have one. "You'll get used to it," He said.......

You mentioned "Parties". Do you remember having a 2 party telephone line where you and a neighbor shared a number? My sister and I used to spend hours listening in on other "parties" and hearing all their conversations.

Deborah - Great story!

In the early 1950's, my mother with some friends went skiing in Canada. My father wanted to speak to her, but didn't know where they were staying. He told the long distant operator that she was in a hotel or inn somewhere in the Laurentian Mountains of Quebec. Twenty minutes later, she called back, having located my mother.

How times have changed! - Sandy

Great story.

While I enjoy and am amazed with today’s technology and how far we’ve come, I, like Darlene, miss the real person on the other end of the business line.

And, Nancy, as for party lines, I had so much fun learning things about our neighbors that, of course, were none of my business tsk tsk….

A funny and clever blog. Ah, yes, I am often heard to say, these days, that electronics will be the death of me yet. My new camera advertises only an online guide and how-to videos, but when you click on the how-to's it says "Sorry, there are no how-to videos for this model"!

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