Is This the Party to Whom I am Speaking?





(As a child, I well remember our rural community’s party line — this was what social media was like 60 years ago, only you couldn’t choose your friends and you certainly couldn’t “unfriend” or block anyone from knowing all about your business.  Privacy was a relative concept during those days, so I decided to write this little story about how a “typical” neighborhood party line functioned) 


Two longs and a short is for the Williams farm,
Two shorts and a long is for Abner and Gladys, retired down the road,
A short and a long is for Aunt Bessie who lives nearby with her cat,
One long is for the Mitchell family of ten next door,
One short means it’s for me, alone since my son got married.

Most of the rings are for the Mitchells as four of their girls are over thirteen,
But when I pick up the receiver, it is Aunt Bessie’s voice I hear most,
As she likes to call the ladies from church and find out who’s sick,
Who’s not, and who’s maybe not going to make it through the week
To be sitting in their pew come Sunday.

Gladys is usually listening on the line real quiet-like and I know that
Because I can hear her sniff every once in awhile
Due to her allergies, kind of a little snort which she tries to cover up
But it does no good as we know she’s there and everything we say
Will be spread to town by tomorrow anyways.

Which reminds me the Williams’ are having money troubles
Because the bank is calling them about their overdue loan payments
And the crops are poor this year so there is worry about foreclosure.
And if that wasn’t enough, the Mrs. has made a doctor’s appointment in the city
Because of a new lump she found just yesterday.

Wouldn’t you know one of the Mitchell girls was talking about running off
With that Howard boy but I can’t imagine how word got back to her daddy
Who has put the phone and the boy off-limits for the time being
Until summer is over and she can be sent to the city to be a nanny to a wealthy family
And maybe meet a rich city boy who will keep her occupied.

Of course we’ve all offered solutions for Abner’s hemorrhoids
And his itchy scalp, even when we aren’t asked for our opinion.
Then when the youngest Mitchell was refusing to sleep through the night
Aunt Bessie suggested a little blackberry cordial might help but
Mrs. Mitchell was properly horrified and hung up then and there.

Last night the phone rang one short ring, sometime after 1 AM,
I woke with my nerves all a-jangle, wondering what bad news I would hear,
Four other people were on the line listening for my bad news too.
When I heard my oldest boy back east shout  “Mama, it’s a girl, you’re a granny!”
My heart swelled and my tears flowed for this answer to my prayers.

In the morning, when I went to walk down the driveway to get the mail
There was a bright bouquet of pink dahlias from the Williams’ on my front porch,
A drawing colored up real nice from the Mitchell kids “to our favorite new granny”
And a still warm fresh loaf of bread from Gladys waiting in the mailbox
Which made for a real fine party for Bessie and me sipping on her blackberry cordial.








6 thoughts on “Is This the Party to Whom I am Speaking?

  1. Ahh….. makes me smile as I remember growing up in the country with party lines and having to be quiet while watching my Auntie as she listened in on her neighbors!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This day’s delightful reading!! Party lines were experienced by me too, when I was a child–but none so interesting as this!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Among my oldest memories of the two-month Summer visit to Grandma’s in Western Upstate NY was the ‘party line.’ We ‘modern’ urbanites in eastern NY had rotary dial phones when we were growing up except for those who lived in the country (now called suburbia or ex-urbia) who still had ‘ring-up’ party lines. Party-line users were a unique kind of ‘community’ — with sometimes helpful, sometimes unpleasant results. My brothers and I were fascinated by the phones and would sneakily listen in for a brief time to hear the local gossip — until Grandma caught us! The first time it was a stern warning. After that (if we were still not convinced of our error) it was confinement to the house for three days. We got the message and decided that loss of our freedom was not worth violating a neighbor’s privacy.

    But now in the 21st Century we no longer have that old-fashioned means of communicating with family, neighbors, etc. We now have iPhones and computers (Including Skype that provides face-to-face communication) that traverse the earth with the speed of light (almost). We pay a price for these modern take-for-granted ways to communicate:
    Yet, with all of the miracles of modern communication technology we have lost a precious guarantee: we are not assured our privacy. Our phone and computer records are sold by communications corporations (e.g., Verizon, Time Warner, Google, Facebook, et al) to feed ubiquitous data-mining banks. Such data are shared indiscriminately (often for a fee) with government agencies at all levels, medical administrators and insurance companies, financial institutions and the marketplace, among others. Orwell’s 1984 has been with us for longer than we realize but are sadly beginning to learn about and experience. The violation of our personal privacy continues unabated due to failed or by politically-hijacked legislation by special interest group lobbyists that was supposed to ensure it — more evidence of the attack on our cherished Democracy and U.S. Constitutional protections.

    Among one other memory of my grandma was her wisdom and advice, This one may not be 100% germane to what I have said here but it’s in the ballpark.
    ‘Before you leave the house every day, be sure that you are in the state of grace and are wearing clean underwear.”
    I have to wonder what sage advice she would give to me — and to us — today as we confront the diminishing, the loss, of our precious privacy.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for describing it so well!!  How well I remember!

    Bob Keener

    “Pay attention – Be astonished – Tell about it”  – Mary Oliver

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.