Legacy Blog #12: The Party Line (Phone)

My Beloved Daughter,

Party lines mean something much different today than they did when I was a child.  It’s a political term today, referring to beliefs in voting that generally fall into accepted norms within a specific party, like Republicans being, generally, pro-life.  When I was a child in rural Van Buren, MO, it was a term for a specific type of phone line.

Our first phone when I was a kid had a party line that was linked to my paternal grandparents’ phone.  Since we lived so far outside of the city limits of that small town, it was the only type of line that we had available.  Our first number had the last digits of 8535.  Your great-grandparents number ended in 4690.  To call each other, we would simply dial a seven before those last few digits.  To call anyone else in the town, we only had to dial the last four digits of their number at that time, as Van Buren’s prefix was the same for the entire town.  It wasn’t until we had moved to Campbell that we had to start dialing the prefix and it was pretty much made a requirement in all cases sometimes in the mid-eighties.

If we needed to call someone, we couldn’t do so if they were already on the phone.  If we picked up the phone, we could join in to their conversation, as they shared the line with us.  It didn’t work out too badly, as they didn’t like to talk on the phone too much, as I recall.

During the summer, my cousin, Dan, would come and stay with us for a couple of weeks at a time and wanted to keep in touch with his parents—since he was half your age at the time.  We’d often pick up the only phone in the house—which was on the wall in the kitchen and had a chord and a rotary dial—only to hear Grandma Davis talking on the line.  We’d eavesdrop; listening to the conversation for several minutes, until one of us would inevitably giggle, alerting her to our presence.

“You kids get off the line!”

Yep, good times.

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