It wasn't long after the advent of the first dial telephones that my
older brother and I found out that we could be totally anonymous while making
phone calls. Up to this point we had a healthy fear of being found out if we
used the phone to make what we thought were fun phone calls. We were on the
verge of discovering the enormous possibilities the new technology offered us.
No more "Number, please?". No more "David, is that you on the line?". We could
pick up the phone and dial any four number sequence and begin to have fun. We
still had to be careful because the phone was still centrally located in the
cubby hole box in the hallway. We still had to keep an eye out for Mom. This, in
itself, wasn't too hard. Not that our mother was oblivious to the mischief we
were up to, but when the washing machine was running, (If it is, you'd better
catch it.) she couldn't hear too much else. As it happened Mom was hard of
hearing and even with a very large hearing aid strapped to her waist, she
couldn't discern our voices over the sloshing sounds of the washer as we engaged
in our games of voice mischief. Since Mom was busy washing and hanging the
clothes outside, we only wreaked havoc on the telephone lines on Monday.
"It's your turn to watch today," I said.
I climbed on the foot stool which we had borrowed from the living room.
Putting my tiny finger into the dial, I turned it as quietly as I could. Even
though it just clicked a bit and could hardly be heard a foot away, it was
thunderous in my ears, not unlike the roar of a toilet flushing in the middle of
It rang once. It rang twice. "Maybe they're not at home." The ringing
"Hello," a lady's voice responded.
In my calmest voice, just stifling a laugh, "Hello, do you keep Aunt
Jemima in your cupboard?"
There was a pause. "Why, I believe I do."
Still holding back, I looked at my brother and replied, "Don't you think
you should let her out? She must be stiff from being crammed into such a small
space." There was an audible click at the other end of the line.
I could barely see the hook for the receiver. Tears filled my eyes as I found
the cradle and hung up.
We put the stool back in the living room and headed for the front porch.
"She said she kept Aunt Jemima in the cupboard." We rolled on the porch
with laughter, tears running down our cheeks. Mom looked out and smiled
appreciatively as we laughed together.
"It's your turn next," I told Paul. "Which one should we use?"
Paul offered, "Let's try 'Is your refrigerator running?'"
"What about 'Do you keep Prince Albert in a can?'"
"I know, try the one about Robin Hood? My brother didn't sound too
"I don't think that's so funny, what about you?"
"I've got it! I've got it! I could see that Paul was having a flash of
brilliance. "Let's call someone who lives on this street and ask them if they
live on Harcourt Street."
"So what's the answer," I responded somewhat puzzled.
"They'll say yes and I'll say, you'd better get out of the way, a
My face brightened. "I want to do that one. I have to do it. Can I do
it? Please, please please," I pleaded.
"You just did one, it's my turn."
"C'mon, I know just who to call."
"Well, OK," Paul conceded.
My plan had begun. I was going to call our neighbor, the telephone lady,
who used to know everything, and fool her for a change. My logic, once again
flawed by youth, suggested that, since we don't have to talk to the operator
anymore except when making out of town calls, she wouldn't have the slightest
idea who was calling.
We checked the number carefully and memorized it so the next opportunity
to sneak to the phone would not be marred by having to get the phone book and
find the number. A short search led us to the number we wanted and we recited it
quietly to ourselves - 2-3-7-4. For the next few days each would challenge the
other to remember the number and, without fail, each was successful.
Next washing day was perfect. The sun was bright. It was an ideal day
for drying clothes. Mom was busy doing just that and the lady next door was
home. We had checked.
"Can Sharon come out to play," I had said politely when our neighbor,
the telephone operator, had answered the door. Having confirmed that Sharon was
already out (we knew where she was) I left. The scene was set.
We checked to see if Mom was busy with the wash. The machine was
whirring noisily in the kitchen. Mom sang a line or two of this song or another
and headed out to the back stoop to hang the first load of wash on the line.
"Coast is clear," Paul exclaimed.
We dragged the stool quietly from the living room. I jumped up and
lifted the receiver while Paul stood guard. I put my finger in the hole in the
dial beside the two, turned it, released it, then the three, the seven and
finally the four. It seemed like forever before the ringing started.
"Boy, am I ever going to get her."
It rang once. I put my hand over the mouthpiece, "It's ringing."
It rang twice. I covered the receiver with my free hand. "I hope she
didn't go out."
On the third ring, she answered. "Hello."
"Do you live on Harcourt Street," I queried. I looked at Paul and
started to giggle. "Here she goes," I said.
"And you too, David," My neighbor, the telephone operator heard me. I
had forgotten to put my hand over the receiver. "Now hang up or I'll tell your
mother. She's just next door, you know. We were talking over the fence."