Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

March 9, 2003


Imagine what it would be like if the telephone never rang


          I am old enough to remember when our family got our first telephone. As I recall, it was a five-party line. Sharing a telephone with four other families did not seem like such a great burden back then. We knew we were blessed to have a telephone even on a part-time basis.

            We learned that the folks talking on our line would hang up if we told them we had to make an emergency call. After awhile we all got to know each other, so you could even interrupt a conversation by calling the person using the phone by name.

            Sometimes, for fun, I would eavesdrop on someone else’s conversation. Now and then, someone would say, “Well, Maude, I think someone is listening to us, so I reckon we had better get off the phone.” I know, I know, that was a mean and sneaky thing to do, but I was a mischievous boy and being tempted, I yielded. I wish that had been the worse thing I ever did as a boy.

            That first telephone was big and bulky, and hung on a wall in the hall. To get an operator, you had to turn a crank. Unlike our sleek, modern phones, it must have weighed 15 or 20 pounds.

            Only a few feet away from the phone was the bathroom. Using skills he had acquired as a plumber’s helper, Dad installed the toilet as a welcome addition to the house not long before we got a telephone.

            The proximity of the bathroom to the telephone meant that anyone using the bathroom facilities could hear the conversation of someone who was using the phone. You had to be rather careful what you said, realizing that privacy was not likely.

            I can still remember times in those days when I was either on the telephone, or on the toilet, wondering why my Dad had positioned the two conveniences so close together. It is one of those questions I forgot to ask him before he died.

            More than 65 years have passed since that old telephone appeared in our house.  Much has changed about the way we live, but the telephone has become increasingly indispensable.

            Like rabbits, telephones have multiplied like crazy. We have seven of them in our home now. In addition we have two cell phones. For some reason we have taught ourselves that we need always to be near a telephone.

            The telephone is truly an amazing gadget. My cell phone is small enough to fit easily in my shirt pocket. I prefer to carry it there rather than attaching it to my belt.

            I have resisted the idea of buying a phone that will show my picture to the person calling. If someone wants to see what I look like, then the dear soul can come to my home.

            Though the telephone can be useful, especially in an emergency, it can also be quite a nuisance. My wife and I take turns answering the phone because most of the time neither of us wants to be bothered.

            We have become weary of so many bothersome calls, people wanting to sell us a cruise trip, or a thousand different things. For years I took the time to explain to people why I was not interested. More recently, I simply hang up without saying a word. I rationalize that to do so is a kinder response than to scream, which is what I feel like doing.

            Would I like to go back to the good old days when we had no telephone? Absolutely not. Despite having a dozen calls a day that are a nuisance, it is actually a wonderful moment when a friend calls just to see how you are doing.

            Life would be intolerable really, if the phone never rang. I can hardly imagine how lonely and miserable I would be if none of my friends ever called.

            The other day Al and Shirley Krinke called from Glenallen, Alaska. What a thrill it was to hear their voices again. We have not seen them face to face for many years, but they remain dear friends. The telephone helps us keep that friendship alive.

            Now you must please excuse me. I must stop writing. I hear the familiar sound of the telephone ringing. It may be a good friend calling. If so, then this will be a good day.