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Folks On Party Line Knew Your Business

By Charles Cooper

Hello everyone, I hope you’re having a good week.  

Well I’m getting partly back to normal, as my computer is working and I can concentrate better. The in-surance adjuster is supposed to be here Saturday and we can start the repairs soon.  I can get emails and I’ll be sure to answer them. My phone is working again and I’ve gotten so accustomed to using the cell phone for everything that I may never think of  a land line the same way.   

I do appreciate the telephone calls from Texas, California, Washington, Oregon and Georgia.  These were from people who had my cell phone number. The convenience of cell phones make me wonder how we got along before we had them.

This brought back memories of the eight years I spent on Papa Badley’s farm. He had a telephone from the time I can remember and I think he might have put it in for Dad’s convenience. Dad was a fireman on the railroad at that time and running men were supposed to have access to a phone if they were not in town.  

Originally running men were required to live within one mile of the depot. But, as phones became more plentiful, it was amended to always  be  where they could be reached by phone.  

In town the call boy still went to their homes. But, back to Papa’s phone that was a box like contraption   that hung on the wall. It was powered by two dry cell batteries about the size of a flashlight. The only place you could get them was at the telephone office.

At that time the telephone company was a monopoly.  The office was in Oxford and I remember hearing them say, “while you’re in Oxford go by the phone company and get a couple of batteries.”  

There were two party lines out the Old Oxford road which started from Boyd Street at the City limits and went north. One was  2400 and the other was 2500.  Papa’s line was 2500 and his number was 2513. This meant one long ring and three shorts so you had to listen when the phone rang to see if was your number.  Papa said, and with good reason, that it really didn’t matter because people picked up their phones and listened to your conversation.

There was a hand crank on the right side of the phone and you could call anyone on your line if you knew their ring. If you wanted someone on another line or long distance you did one long ring for the operator who was called Central.  

People called their telephone bill “dues” and someone was designated to collect them each month. On Papa’s line it was Mrs. “Buddo” Brower who lived on Old Oxford road just outside the city limits. The last time I was on that road the old house was still standing but vacant just north of where Harry Fair lived in later years. He was married to Mrs. Brower’s granddaughter, Louella Beck.  

The telephone subscribers strung their own line nailing the insulators to trees and posts until they reached the main lines just across the road from Mrs. Brower where they used the same poles that the city lines used.

In my wildest imagination I could have never thought that some day I would be carrying a phone around with me and if I decided to call Jamie in Portland, Oregon I could reach him in a few seconds.  In those days, conveniences were practically unknown and that’s why  I believe these are the good old days.  

I recently was channel searching and came across an old silent movie and it made me realize if they hadn’t learned to put in sound, the movies would probably have failed. Mother said she remembered how the theater in Water Valley would show silent movies and a piano player would play a musical score that came with the film. Nell Myers, Bob Myers” sister, played at the theater until sound came in.  

When Warner Bros. produced the first sound film in 1927 only Al Jolson’s songs were in sound , the dialogue  still  had sub titles.  Actually there was a sound film with John Barrymore before that but the only sound was the clashing of swords in a sword fight so that still gives  the Jazz Singer credit for the first full length sound movie.  Of course there was an upside and a down side to all this just as the automobile replaced the buggy but allowed people to travel  a larger area than before.  

Many silent film stars simply could not make it into the sound era. Fa-mous actor, John Gilbert,  was said to have had such a high squeaky voice that it killed his career. The famous cowboy star, Tom Mix,  slurred his words so badly that he only lasted  a short time in sound pictures. It’s like that old Memphis Slim song, “One man’s sad is another man’s glad.”  

While some failed, it made super stars  of Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Gary Cooper and so many others.

You can  reach me once again  at my same email address,  or write me at P.O. Box 613189 Memphis, Tn 38101 or call me at 870-732-5843 or 870-636-2503, so let me hear from you and have a great week.

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