On Ma Bell and the cell

Published 12:02 am Saturday, August 21, 2010

Daddy called Mama, “Ma Bell.” And for good reason.

Mama was a talented talker.

What she did before the telephone must be left to speculation.

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I remember that she sang a lot and listened to the radio and just sat around talking, like folks used to do. Then, we got a telephone.

Of course, Mama’s hero, Alexander Graham Bell, had invented the talking machine a long time before. We just didn’t get one until I was old enough to remember. Our telephone number was 180-J, pronounced “one-eight-oh-jay.” To make a call, you had to go through a real live “number please” operator and the nosey neighbors on your party line.

The telephone was Mama’s link to the outside world. No longer was she tied to the kitchen sink. She was strung out on the phone.

Daddy always said if you called our house and the telephone rang, Mama wasn’t at home.

Now, Daddy did not talk on the telephone. “That’s for women to gab on,” he would laugh and say.

And, he had very little chance. One ring and Mama could leap all the way across the room and catch the phone on the fly. If Mama happened to be occupied and the telephone rang, Daddy would just let it ring off the hook.

“William, why didn’t you answer the phone?” Mama would ask.

“It wasn’t for me,” Daddy would say.

“You don’t know,” Mama would reply. But Daddy did know.

Mama would wait a few minutes before she headed to the telephone wondering if some calamity had befallen a family member or friend. Daddy said if Mama didn’t have anything to worry about, she would go across the road and borrow something.

So, a missed telephone call was ample opportunity for Mama to canvas the community to see who had called with bad news.

Her disappointment was obvious if she was unlucky enough to get the “missed call” on the first few tries. When she did, I could see Daddy smiling behind his newspaper.

Daddy liked to please Mama, so when he did have a reason to talk on the telephone, he would turn it over to Ma Bell.

“How about calling ‘so-and-so’ and telling him ‘whatever,’” Daddy would say and Mama would be glad for yet another reason to talk on the phone.

If Daddy were forced on the phone, he would always end the conversation with “much obliged” indicating that the caller had facts or figures he needed to know. It definitely was not a casual call.

Daddy really got a kick out of Mama being forced off the phone. For some unknown or unexplained reason, the telephone company decided that three minutes was enough time for anybody to tie up the telephone. So, after three minutes the phone cut off. If you had more to say, you had to call back for another three minutes of talking time.

Mama considered that a slap in mouth of all womankind. She joined the pocketbook brigade, and they marched on the telephone office and that was the end of the three-minute phone calls.

That makes me wonder what Mama would think about today’s telephones that offer constant worldwide communication via “the cell.” At first thought, it would seem that she would have liked it. Then, on second thought, she would have had no part of it.

As much as Mama enjoyed talking on the telephone, there was a limit to what she would tolerate. She would get as mad as an ol’ wet hen if the telephone rang while her “stories” were on. From 11 o’clock until 1, Mama was watching the soaps, and she would not be disturbed.

Then, if the weather was “pretty,” she was off to the golf course, and she would not have taken kindly to anyone calling her from tee to green. And, she enjoyed face-to-face conversations too much to be bothered while “visiting” around town.

And, I’m sure Daddy would have a word to say about cell phones – a four-letter word.

Jaine Treadwell is features editor of The Messenger. She can be reached via email at jaine.treadwell@troymessenger.com.